It’s 3 p.m. the day after Christmas. Most of the storefronts are quiet—all except this one. The Taco Shack on Colorado Avenue is overflowing with customers—its staff hustling to take orders, clear tables and care for the customers. It’s an organized hub of activity, with one person at the center pulling the strings.
Owner and founder Julie LaFrance-Lentine is passionate about the food and hospitality industry. The Miami native thrives on providing the highest quality service and food at her establishment, which celebrated its second anniversary in December.
“My goal was to create a warm, friendly, fun environment with a great vibe, great food and great service,” she says. Having started in the industry at an early age, LaFrance-Lentine knows how to do just that.
Her beginnings are rooted in the hospitality scene in Miami. At the age of 15, she was working for her father, also a restaurateur. At 19, she opened the landmark Mayfair Hotel in Coconut Grove. She went on to have her hand in numerous other properties, and by the age of 26 held a position at Miami’s only five-star hotel at the time, the Grand Bay Hotel. “That’s when I knew I would be in the food hospitality industry,” she recalls. She worked her way up, switched to the corporate side, and eventually relocated to Stuart in 1996.
When the opportunity presented itself, LaFrance-Lentine returned to her love of food and cooking. She was working in catering and events when, in 2012, Ron Hart, owner of Earthtones, invited her to cater at his outdoor bar and concert venue, Terra Fermata. So one night she bought the meat, gathered all the toppings and started serving pork tacos. Her reputation as the Taco Lady began.
“I knew I was on the verge of something, but didn’t know what it was,” she says.
The path revealed itself soon enough when she walked over to the under-construction office building across from Terra Fermata. A light bulb went off in her head, and the idea for a taco shop was born. In December 2013, The Taco Shack opened serving only five kinds of tacos and two soups. The restaurant now serves a full menu, with as many as 30 tacos, depending on the day.
LaFrance-Lentine’s twist on gourmet tacos has now earned her the elevated name of Taco Queen. Everything served is made from scratch, in-house, from locally sourced ingredients, according to her own original recipes.
“It’s a labor of love,” she says smiling. The Stuart community has shown up to love her right back.