Village Taco Brings Vegan Eatery Back to Former Home of Hal & Al’s
Hal & Al’s was slinging vegan bar food before the plant-based diet was eliciting entire menus and restaurants in Columbus. And now, thanks to some serendipitous connections, the space at 1297 Parsons Ave. is a vegan restaurant once again.
After a run as Tatohead’s Public House ended, Village Taco moved in at the end of last year, bringing a menu of vegan tacos and Tex-Mex eats, along with “burgers,” corn dogs and more.
Those that have done some culinary exploration around Central Ohio might recognize the name. Husband-and-wife team Heidi and Jonny Stone started Village Taco as a pop-up to earn money to put down roots as a brick-and-mortar. The pop-up turned permanent when the Stones opened the first Village Taco in late 2018 in Alexandria, OH – a roughly 500-person village in Licking County, about 40 minutes east of Columbus.
Engrained in the Village Taco concept was the use of locally-sourced foods from as close to the restaurant as possible. The Stones estimate that nearly everything came from within a five to ten mile radius of Alexandria.
Eating at Village Taco, diners not only supported the restaurant, but other local small businesses and farms – something Heidi says made diners fee like they were a part of something. Building that sustainability within the community is at the core of what Village Taco is all about, Jonny says.
A focus on sustainability also put the Stones on a path to Columbus. The couple had met former Hal & Al’s Owner Jay Cheplowitz by chance through a bartending gig in Granville. Knowing that Cheplowitz had a vehicle that ran off of vegetable oil, Jonny reached out to him about taking the fryer oil waste from Village Taco.
Once Cheplowitz saw the Village Taco concept and ate the food, he started pitching the Stones on the vacant Parsons restaurant. (Cheplowitz owns the building.) Having only been open a few months, and supporting a family of eight with their six kids, a new location was met with an initial reaction of, “You’re crazy.” But with a little convincing, the Stones decided to take a risk and bring Village Taco to Parsons.
Heidi says that as scary as it was to think about opening another spot, knowing they were going into the former home of Hal & Al’s was really the tipping point.
Village Taco has given the space a fresh look. Most of the interior materials are reclaimed, reused or repurposed, from the salt and pepper shakers and light fixtures, to the maps that line the walls.
There’s a stage for live music, which will be a Saturday night mainstay, and a gallery wall that will host a rotating display of local artists’ work.
The beer is all local, as well as most of the liquor, and the eats all vegan. The Stones came from Colorado…so there’s some recreational-marijuana-is-legal influence in the names of the dishes.
The Chronic Enchiladas are popular – a diner’s choice of protein rolled up with rice in local blue corn tortillas and smothered in house-made ranchero and krack sauces, served with shredded cabbage-carrots, salsa, black beans and seasoned potatoes. Other top dishes include the Popcorn “Chickun” breaded, fried and tossed with spicy chipotle buffalo sauce, and on Tuesday Taco Night, the Dirty Sunset – seasoned ground “beaf,” crunchy corn Taquitos, hot & cheezy K-SO, shredded cabbage-carrots, pico de gallo and smoky sweet pepper krak sauce.
The menu misspellings are intentional, but meant to let diners know what to expect when ordering. “Chickun” or “beaf” will be seasoned and textured close to what one would normally expect from from those proteins.
Heidi says the customer base so far has been “so positive and supportive.” They’ve even seen Alexandria non-vegan regulars make the drive into Columbus for a taste.
The couple also credits the vegan community in the area and its mindset of collaboration instead of competition for helping Village Taco happen.
“This community is really what helped us go from just an idea to something that is just snowballing and people are really getting on board,” Jonny says.
Village Taco will be open on limited hours as they ramp up staffing. Diners can find their vegan eats on Taco Tuesdays, from 3 – 11 p.m. Weekend hours are 3 p.m. – 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 3 – 9 p.m. Sunday. They hope to roll out seven-day-a-week hours by the end of March, including a brunch that was one of their most popular meals in Alexandria. The original Alexandria location is closed for now as the Stones figure out what’s next for the space which they own.
For more information, follow Village Taco on Facebook.
All photos by Susan Post