They were two siblings out of work.
Brooke Jankow, a California transplant to Babylon, lost her job in NYC.
Her brother Steve Zoerner had just gotten laid off from his work in Northern California.
“We were catching up on the phone and I was talking about how I didn’t know what to do with my life. I had no money, no job,” Brooke recalled. “Then I said, imagine if we opened up that taco and burrito place we always talked about?”
That’s all she had to say.
“He packed his stuff and his dog and left the mountains in his Subaru and drove out here,” Brooke said. “We had our names on the lease that weekend.”
The two had taken over Lucy’s Café & Bistro and started building Swell Taco.
“We were literally two people with nothing to lose,” she said.
They slapped some paint on the walls, hung some decorations, changed the sign and got cooking.
The two weren’t expecting much, other than to sell a few tacos.
“But we had a line out the door from the get-go,” she said.
That was June 2012.
Five years later, a second Swell Taco has been built out in Patchogue Village. Brooke, Steve and their longtime GM in Babylon, Tiffany Amador, have partnered on the second location, which will open soon.
“We’re really excited,” Brooke said weeks back. “Patchogue is up and coming and we want to be a part of it. For us, it’s another really cool place with that seaside, South Shore community vibe.”
Swell Taco has become a destination for many on the island, especially among the area’s surfing community that might have experienced the fare of coastal California, Mexico, or Costa Rica.
Brooke and her brother — who worked for years in Mexican restaurants — often say their vision was to serve amazing food and re-create that laid-back, familial setting they both experienced growing up in the San Clemente, in southern Orange County.
“A relaxed, warm and fun atmosphere where every guest feels welcome,” reads the introduction to a Swell Taco promotional video we posted below. “Whether you’re coming home from the beach with sandy feet or suited up from work, our door is open.”
The push for a second Swell Taco stemmed in large part from wanting to offer more opportunities to their existing staffers, with one in particular being Tiffany Amador.
“Tiffany has been with us since the beginning,” Brooke said of her waitress-turned-general manager. “She actually quit college for Swell Taco.”
Amador, of West Islip, was studying to be an occupational therapist.
“Swell Taco was the first job that I ever had that I absolutely looked forward to,” she said. “We call it our Swell family. This is like walking into your family’s house. And we’re proud of that.”
Brooke’s idea to open a taco and burrito place came out of necessity. Like a New Yorker searching for good pizza out of state, she was growing disappointed with the Mexican options here on the island. Nothing she could find tasted like home, she said.
That’s really what led the brother and sister to do it themselves. Many people on Long Island have taken notice of the difference.
“I think it’s because we were raised on all the right ingredients,” said Brooke. “And, you know, they’re pretty difficult to obtain. Like with the peppers, it took us a lot of time to find the right ones. It’s not easy to find a lot of what we use; these are quality, authentic ingredients.”
The off-the-beach feel of the place only adds to the good times.
“I think the need was here,” Brooke said of Swell’s Taco meteoritic rise in popularity. “There’s this whole surf culture, this beach-loving community that needed a place to hang out.
“And they know good Mexican food.”
Editor’s note: A version of this story first appeared on GreaterPatchogue.