By Jessica Vician
When launching Amanecer Taco Shop, Co-founder Ana Vela aimed to solve a problem: introduce breakfast tacos to Chicagoland, for they did not exist here as she knew them.
Growing up in Texas on the Rio Grande border, San Antonio-style breakfast tacos were a way of life, but when she moved to Chicago, she searched everywhere but couldn’t find them (and for the record, breakfast tacos are not the same as breakfast burritos).
When she decided to open Amanecer Taco Shop, Vela strived to educate the consumers on the food and culture. “We are battling the stereotype that Mexican food is cheap. It’s actually a labor-intensive product and we are trying to provide a living wage for our employees,” says Vela. She knew Amanecer’s design and branding would be the first step to debunking that stereotype and showcasing the breakfast tacos that are made from scratch with farm fresh ingredients and a slow cooking process that Vela learned from her mother and grandmother.
To ensure customers immediately saw the product as high quality, authentic, and unique, Vela partnered with Libby VanWhy on the design and branding. I chatted with Vela and VanWhy about their process and how they identified and addressed the problems immediately to build the brand and get the breakfast tacos out to the masses.
JV: At what point in building this business did you start thinking about design and branding?
Ana Vela (AV): The very beginning! As I was thinking about introducing this food to Chicago, I always thought about how it would be visually presented to customers. The brand, the packaging of the taco, the food truck, etc. My background is in graphic design and so I still think in terms of design first.
Libby VanWhy (LV): We’ve thought a lot about the entire Amanecer experience from day one—the flavors, the branding, the packaging, and the delivery/service (via Smart car, catering, wholesale, and now the Taco Shop).
What was the process like once you started working on the branding?
LV: We’ve applied “design thinking” to our product development the entire time! Ana initially identified a problem (no breakfast tacos in Chicago) and we’ve gone through many rounds of concepting, decision-making, prototyping and evaluating.
At the very beginning I put together a branding exploration where Ana and I talked through the business goals. Staying close to Ana’s cultural values was really important—she didn’t want to go cliché but wanted the colors and flavor of her culture to shine through.
AV: We had several discussions about words to use in English and Spanish. Using a company name “Amanecer” was important to my husband and me. But blending it with English words so everyone could understand what we were trying to express was a good balance. You can see that in the name of our tacos, social media messages, etc.
LV: We discussed at length the use of specific language—should the name be in Spanish? Should there be a combo of English and Spanish? We decided to start with the name, the colors, and the logo/mark as a launching point and from there we built out ALL THE REST! There were marketing materials, a website, social media imagery, a vehicle wrap, etc.
AV: The other issues deal with how we are tackling the main problem of introducing breakfast tacos to Chicagoland. Based on our focus groups, we are using more Mexican flavor profiles for our breakfast tacos. We are showcasing our Latinx culture as part of our branding. We are a minority-owned business. We are battling the stereotype that Mexican food is cheap.
Libby and I always agreed that we would let the market and our customers influence where the business needed to go. So the branding process continues to evolve. We know what we keep true and never change, and we discuss what parts of the branding should be flexible to change.
LV: Our current iteration of the business includes “Tech Express.” Before we could get there we started with our prototype “taco shop” to work through SO MANY DETAILS, including business hours, menu items, store layout, recipes, kitchen processes, and more.
AV: As Libby mentioned, we adapt based on customer feedback. We’ve updated the menu based on what sells and what doesn’t—from certain tacos to sides. We recently debuted a carnitas breakfast taco after customers kept asking for one. When we were developing the recipe, we invited customers to try it and give us feedback so that we could perfect it for them.
LV: We’ve also updated our website—we’re on our second version now—after receiving feedback about what information was going to be most valuable to customers.
What design elements were important to you?
AV: Latinx culture can be represented in many ways. I am a U.S. citizen who grew up along the Rio Grande border, so I spent a lot of time back and forth in Northern Mexico. I wanted to represent my traditional Mexican culture, but also merge it with elements I enjoy from trends in American graphics. Libby was the perfect person to work on this! I wanted bright, bold, but not cliché.
Tell us about your favorite part of running this business and developing the brand.
AV: I love when people try breakfast tacos for the first time ever and are amazed to enjoy something new! It’s also wonderful when people are curious about our culture and enjoy learning more about where we are from.
LV: I think we’ve done a good job capturing the initial goals Ana set out with—represent her culture in a non-cliché way. Represent the food in a realistic way—beautiful photos of delicious tacos!