Last Bull Taco stand shuts down amid lease dispute with state

The first of the edgy, regional Bull Taco stands -- and the last remaining one -- has ceased operations at San Elijo State Beach's campground after a lease dispute, and someone else will be filling that space.

Bull Taco, which held a subcontract for more than seven years allowing it to operate a taco stand in San Elijo's camp store building, violated its contract agreement last year when it changed its name and its menu without prior approval from the California State Parks, said Lisa Urbach, interim sector superintendent for the state parks' north coastal sector.

The operators -- restaurateurs Greg Lukasiewicz and Laurel Manganelli -- had renamed the place Fish Mama and had a new menu focused on fish dishes instead of Bull Taco's famous exotic taco fillings. After state parks officials discovered the changes, they notified the operators that the place needed to revert back to its original status, Urbach said.

"We gave them a list of requirements and those requirements were not met," she said, adding that the place officially closed in mid-December.

The closure of the walk-up taco stand, which had a jaw-dropping view of miles of coastline and surfers riding the waves, marks the end of an era.

This was the place where Lukasiewicz first experimented with unusual taco meat fillings, including duck, when he and Manganelli moved into the region fleeing the hectic pace of Los Angeles' high-end restaurant scene a decade ago.

They picked the campground location because Manganelli had family connections to the camp store business -- her relatives have held the contract to operate the store for decades.

The success of that taco stand led the couple to launch other Bull Tacos, including in Oceanside and San Clemente.

Lukasiewicz said Friday that he's been on the leading edge of many food trends, including the farm-to-table movement, so experimenting with exotic taco fillings came naturally to him.

Restaurant projects that he and Manganelli have been involved with in San Diego County range from Pandora's Pizza in Encinitas to taco stands at Petco Park.

With Bull Taco, he found it far easier to start a chain than to keep it going.

"Building a chain is the hardest thing in the world," Lukasiewicz said Friday as he described the rise and fall of Bull Taco.

Keeping the quality of food at a high level while dealing with seasonal staffing fluctuations in several coastal locations at once and other issues was beyond challenging, he said, adding that he figures he only took three-, four-day vacations in 10 years.

In mid 2017, he filed for bankruptcy protection for the Bull Taco business, but withdrew that filing later in the year.

He said Friday that he changed the campground stand's name recently because he felt Bull Taco was "just losing its buzz. I wanted to put it to sleep and give it a nap."

A break is just what he's planning to give himself, too. Next month, he expects to leave on a one-year visit to Nicaragua -- he's half Nicarguan. When he returns, he plans to bring Bull Taco back to life in a new location along El Camino Real, he said.

Meanwhile, State Parks is getting ready to re-let the camp store contract. The competitive bidding process is expected to open within months and the contract will likely be awarded in July, Urbach said, adding that she expects there will be a great deal of interest and competition because of the store's prime location in a very busy coastal campground.

Whoever operates the camp store will also manage the former taco stand area, she said.

Potential store concessionaires can find information on the concession bid process at this link: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=22560

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