A familiar Mexican eatery — known to some Seafordites as a pandemic “pop-up” — has planted its feet in Wantagh.
Guac Shop Mexican Grill opened earlier this month in the Willow Wood Shoppes center on Wantagh Avenue. It is the fourth location to open under the same ownership.
The fast-casual restaurant is a joint venture among local business partners and longtime friends: brothers and restaurateurs Matthew and Luke Tesoriero; Patrick O’Halloran, co-owner of Park Place Restaurant and Bar in New Hyde Park; Maxim Builders contractor Joseph Sparacello; and Sergio and Carlo DeCiantis, co-owners of Seaford Italian restaurant Cara Mia.
In February, the grill’s new owners signed a lease for the roughly 3,000-square-foot space. Matthew Tesoriero said the group was eager to expand to Wantagh since “community is important to them.” From a logistical standpoint, he said, the team has been working to expand the brand and open new Guac Shops within a five-mile radius of the others.
The owners were about to open a new location in Jericho last year when the pandemic struck, Tesoriero said. With new staff already trained for that opening, the team was forced to pivot. “We were pushed on our butts like anyone else, and we had to get up and figure it out,” he said. “We made a strategic pivot, and we opened up the first Guac Shop ‘ghost kitchen’ out of our sister restaurant, Cara Mia.”
The “ghost kitchen,” in a “tiny” area of the Cara Mia kitchen, offered takeout and delivery during the pandemic.
O’Halloran, of Massapequa Park, said the Seaford pop-up was “an opportunity for us to test the market and see how this area felt about our food. And we got a good response.”
O’Halloran, who also co-owns the Cara Mia in Queens Village, said he was thrilled to open the Wantagh Guac Shop. “We look forward to growing here,” he said. “We know a lot of people here that have supported us in our other businesses, and we’re just excited to bring our product to our community.”
In 2010, Tesoriero, then in his mid-20s, teamed up with O’Halloran and the DeCiantises to establish Park Place, a full-service American gastropub, in Floral Park.
Luke Tesoriero said he was fully immersed in the restaurant business by age 13, thanks to Matthew, his older brother. “One Sunday morning, I’m playing Xbox and my brother walks in, taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘Listen, it’s time to go work,” he recalled. “I started off as a busboy, and worked my way up to management at Park Place.”
Last year, the restaurant burned down, but its owners managed to reopen in New Hyde Park earlier this year, with a full outdoor patio.
When Matt took a self-described hiatus from the restaurant business in 2014 and started working as an agent for Sabre Real Estate Group in Garden City, he said he was drawn to the fast-casual food market. “I found myself going to Chipotle quite a lot — about two or three times a week,” he said with a laugh. “And I thought, ‘Wow, my team can definitely do this better.’”
Using that inspiration, Matt and his colleagues opened the first Guac Shop in Garden City in March 2018. “That was our little baby, and we’ve been trying to grow this brand ever since,” he said.
Guac Shop aims to offer an “elevated brand” compared with Chipotle or other fast-casual restaurants, Matt explained. “We do that by sourcing a better product,” he said — for example, by using all-white-meat chicken, unlike competitors who may use dark meat. “We’re trying to create a better, more lively atmosphere, and our focus is really on customer service.”
The new eatery will offer on-premise catering and host sports and party events. The team, which plans to open a fifth location in New Hyde Park, is currently working on obtaining a liquor license for the Wantagh grill so it can serve drinks including the popular pineapple jalapeno margarita, Matt said.
In the coming weeks, it will offer a vegan “meat” that uses jackfruit, Luke said. “We’re very focused on the health-conscious individual,” he said. “We’re trying to build an uplifting brand that people can enjoy. It’s not easy to operate a quick-service restaurant and still provide guests with an experience, but we want to be the ones that achieve that — and I think we’re able to.”