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Tampa Taco Festival helping 50 vendors shake off COVID-19 struggles

Said one founder, “Everybody loves tacos, I thought. So I said to myself: Why don’t we organize an event to celebrate tacos?”
Three friends started the Taco Festival at Al Lopez Park and are hoping the third one Saturday will draw the biggest crowds yet. From left, Tatiana Cox-López, Florimar Galdón, and Yisenia Abrahantes.
Three friends started the Taco Festival at Al Lopez Park and are hoping the third one Saturday will draw the biggest crowds yet. From left, Tatiana Cox-López, Florimar Galdón, and Yisenia Abrahantes. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Oct. 14
Updated Oct. 14

Click here to read this story in Spanish.

TAMPA — Two years ago, Ana Muñoz quit her job in maintenance and cleaning at a Tampa hotel, collected her life savings and bought a food truck.

Her love for the cuisine of her native Mexico fed her dream and soon, she was in business with Total Tacos.

Now, Muñoz, 41, is joining more than 50 vendors of Hispanic food who will showcase their offerings 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday during the third Tampa Taco Festival at Al Lopez Park, 4810 N Himes Avenue.

The idea for the festival took shape in April 2016 when Yisenia Abrahantes, 33, of Tampa, bought a taco at a food truck in West Palm Beach during a family trip.

“Everybody loves tacos, I thought,” said Abrahantes, who was born in Cuba. “So I said to myself: Why don’t we organize an event to celebrate tacos? There’s nothing like that in Tampa.”

That day, Abrahantes, an entrepreneur and Airbnb operator, called two of her best friends to talk it over, Puerto Ricans Tatiana Cox-Lopez, 37, and Florimar Galdon, 50.

“They liked the idea because we love the taco culture even though none of us are Mexican,” Abrahantes said. “We started outlining the idea, step by step, until it was finally realized in March 2019. Since then it has been incredible.”

Abrahantes said this third festival is important to help vendors struggling to recover the business they have lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For many local business owners and vendors, this festival represents a new opportunity,” she said.

Abrahantes came as a child to America with her parents from Cienfuegos, Cuba. She is a wife and a mother of a 7-month-old boy. She studied advertising and public relations at the University of Tampa. Her first job was at Radio Disney, where she met and befriended Galdon.

Galdon was born in New York and raised in Puerto Rico. She has lived in Tampa over 18 years. She has two children, 26 and 12, and is a marketing manager at Advent Health.

Galdon said a festival that starts with something as simple but tasty as a taco “can bring a community together.” But tacos is just one of the dishes on all the menus the festival will feature, including carne asadas and elote or street corn, as well as margaritas, aguas frescas and horchata.

Tatiana Cox-López, center, and Florimar Galdón, right, chat Wednesday with Hugo Velez during their Tampa Taco Fest VIP Night.
Tatiana Cox-López, center, and Florimar Galdón, right, chat Wednesday with Hugo Velez during their Tampa Taco Fest VIP Night. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Cox-Lopez was born in Puerto Rico and came as a child to New York. Her family moved to Miami in 1992 but after hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida, her parents decided to check out Tampa.

“Tampa has been my home since 1993 and I love it,” Cox-Lopez said. “So the idea of bringing a taco festival here is very appealing to me and my friends.”

Cox-Lopez is a wife and a mother of two girls, 7 and 1½.

“As mothers, spouses and entrepreneurs, we spend many evenings organizing our taco festival,” said Cox-Lopez. “Sometimes until 11 p.m. and midnight.”

More than 15,000 people attended the first festival, 20,000 the second one, Galdon said.

“We hope that this year there will be more, many more people,” she said.

General Admission is $5 in advance at tickeri.com, $10 cash at the door. Kids 12 and under are free with a paying adult. VIP tickets start at $50. The festival is pet-friendly.

This will be the second taco festival for Muñoz of Total Taco.

“It helped me to meet many people who are doing the same thing. I expanded my network of contacts, listened to customers and thought about new dishes,” she said.

“The pandemic was a challenge for everyone, but we are here and more than ready to sell the best tacos in town.”