10 (or so) Questions with ... Steve Dunn
Steve is the owner of Taco JED.
Rochester Magazine: What were you doing right before this?
Steve Dunn: I’ve been doing lots of important stuff this morning. Really important stuff. I was playing my guitar.
RM: What were you playing?
SD: I was playing “Tangled Up In Blue.”
RM: How long have you been playing?
SD: For 20 years now, but I’m not that good. I’m OK. I’m very methodical. We have a little fake band and we’re trying to be able to get good enough to be able to play some stuff in public.
RM: Well, I know a spot in town that may be willing to book you. They sell tacos, and have live music, and ...
SD: Right. We actually practice at Taco JED’s on Monday and Tuesday nights, when the restaurant’s closed. We have a drum kit in there. We have an acoustic piano we drag out.
RM: What’s the name of the band?
SD: Steve And The What’s Their Faces.
RM: I’ll look for your first show. OK. Has it been easier to sell copiers, insurance, commercial real estate, or tacos?
SD: How did you know about all that? Did I tell you that?
RM: No. You didn’t tell me that. I do my research.
SD: Well, selling copiers now is a lot different than it was going door to door selling them in L.A. You can imagine, it was a great work environment. People loved to see you walk up to their door in Los Angeles to sell them a copier.
RM: Okay, what about insurance?
SD: Well, insurance sucks because you’ve got to have it, and you never want to use it, but you need it.
RM: Commercial real estate?
SD: Just location, location, location.
SD: Tacos? It’s more than just a taco. It’s got to be the environment, the vibe. And, of course, we have to deliver the product, too.
RM: You have three kids?
SD: Tyler, Lauren, and Westby. Tyler’s in St. Paul. Lauren and Westby are both at UNL. University of Nebraska, Lincoln. I’m lucky to be in Rochester, and so close to all of them.
RM: Speaking or family, JED—your long-haired, Grateful Dead-loving mascot—is based on the initials of your father and grandfather, Joseph Edward Dunn.
SD: Yes. I am not JED. And he doesn’t look anything like my dad or grandfather.
RM: And JED the mascot has been given some attributes, like he’s visited 60 National Parks and he’s a motorcycle rider. What about you?
SD: JED has now visited 61 parks. We just got his new patch. I’ve probably visited 15 or 20, so he has me beat there. I do ride a motorcycle. I bought a 2003 Triumph during a midlife crisis, right after I got divorced.
RM: Cool. Not cool about the divorce. I meant the Triumph.
RM: We always love when people can choose almost anywhere for their business, and they choose Rochester.
SD: Here’s the background: I was doing commercial real estate in Dallas and we opened a taco restaurant in 2010, called Rusty Taco. We started franchising these all over. In 2014, we sold the franchise to Buffalo Wild Wings. I moved to Minneapolis to help grow the brand working with Buffalo Wild Wings. When I decided to open Taco JED in Rochester, there were a number of factors, and my family was a big one. I had family living in the cities and family living in northern Minnesota, so I wanted to stay in the state. I looked at Duluth. I looked at St. Cloud. I looked at Mankato, and I looked at Rochester. I decided on Rochester because it was growing so fast, and the people were nice, and it just seemed like the best fit. We’ve loved this community.
RM: I’m going to give you some names, tell me the tie: Scott Lundeen, Dan Tannahill, Tim Barsness.
SD: They all played hockey for Red River High School in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
RM: That was 1985 I think. And you did, too, I’m guessing.
SD: Briefly. I was on the team. I made the team, and then I broke my leg my junior year and I broke it my senior year as well. So I ended up playing the last game of the season. As a senior, my glory day of one game.
RM: That’s rough. How many days a week do you eat at Taco JED?
RM: Do you have the same thing every time?
SD: No. I have some go-tos, but I do like to try all of them just to see how the tacos are.
RM: What are your go-tos?
SD: The picadillo is the taco that got me into the taco business. We were in Dallas and went to a taco place called Fuel City, and these three Mexican ladies would kick out these picadillo tacos from a little gas station. They were delicious. And that sold me on tacos. So that’s always been my go-to. Yeah, that’s my favorite. That taco changed my life.
SD: Yes. Literally.