Allison O’Connor was teaching high school and loved educating young minds, but she felt she wasn’t fulfilling her biggest dreams, which were far more entrepreneurial than teaching would ever allow.
The Vero Beach native who has lived on the Treasure Coast her entire life always enjoyed working in the restaurant industry and had spent much of her childhood in her grandparents’ kitchen watching them cook and learning from them. When an opportunity arose to join forces with three of her closest friends and fellow foodies, O’Connor didn’t think twice before redesigning her dream.
Soon, the St. Lucie resident and her business partners, Bonnie Turk and Kelly and Joel Rucker, were owners and operators of Taco Dive, with four bustling locations, including the original in historical downtown Fort Pierce, one in downtown Vero Beach, another in Port St. Lucie’s Tradition and a beachside location in Fort Pierce. All four locations feature freshly crafted tacos in an infinite number of varieties, and O’Connor says she is having the time of her life, living her best dream.
“Tacos are so much fun!” O’Connor says. “Anything can go with a taco because the possibilities are endless, and everyone loves them — kids, older folks, middle age, everyone. They’re not as heavy as bread. They are so versatile, and you can go salty or sweet. I think the most rewarding thing about the business for me is the partnership.
“My partners are my best friends and family, and we all love what we do. And honestly, it never gets old watching someone take a first bite of a taco and watching their faces light up with sheer enjoyment. We still get giddy when that happens, and I don’t think that will ever change.”
O’Connor says that the most popular item on the ever-changing menu is the steak taco, with the shrimp taco a super-close second. When asked what was the strangest combination of toppings they’ve ever had requested, O’Connor said, “On Fridays, we do specials, and one special we created was a chicken taco with a donut and pickles. It was a big hit, so I don’t think anything someone asked for would seem weird to me.”
A mom with an 8-year-old daughter, O’Connor tests a lot of recipes from food blogs and kitchen creations from a lifetime of food experiences out on her daughter, whom she calls her littlest food critic.
“Honestly, she is usually spot on,” O’Connor says.
O’Connor still works in the kitchen, but not as much as she’d like to because of the responsibilities of being an owner. However, she still considers cooking free therapy because the focus on preparing, working as a team in the kitchen and aiming for perfection is rewarding.
“We love our staff,” O’Connor says of the team she and her partners have assembled to help execute the Taco Dive dream. “They are family, and we cherish them. We are so lucky that we get to go to work every day and see so many different people.”
Like most restaurants, the pandemic did cause some sleepless nights, but a fabulous staff, a healthy dose of creativity and tremendously loyal customers allowed them to adapt and keep going.
“We were able to take our food truck out and post on social media where we’d be,” O’Connor says of the lockdown mode of operation. “People came from as far as Fort Lauderdale to support us. It was a lot of love, and we still feel the love. I feel so fortunate and blessed to have found my passion and get to live it each and every day.”
March 10, 2022
Lives in: Fort Pierce
Family: One daughter, 8
Education: Bachelor’s degree from University of South Florida
Hobbies: Cooking, spending time with friends and family
Who inspires me: “My daughter and my partners”
Something people don’t know about me: “I’m pretty much an open book, but two things that people may not know about me is before I jumped in the world of entrepreneurship [owning restaurants], I had two jobs that most people would never guess. While in college, I drove the monorail at Busch Gardens. My second job after graduating from college was a special education teacher and coach at Centennial High School for just under 10 years. I see many of my former students to this day.”
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