Part of me came of age at a Taco Tico in the Trademark Shopping Center in Corbin, Kentucky. It was the first restaurant where I ever ate Mexican food; my training table for the nearby Lost World Video Arcade; and where I bought burritos (.65c) to smuggle into the Corbin Cinema.
It’s Friday night, perfect weather, and my daddy has pointed the Country Squire wagon out of the Billy Holler my family has called home since the 1800s. We’re heading into town to see the movies; lost to the sands of time but probably Rambo II or perhaps View To A Kill.
I have a proscribed method of how I plan my evening when allowed off the family farm for a night of frivolity. I like to limber up a bit by owning the Defender machine at Lost World for an hour or so, then walk 50 yards to Taco Tico, the little adobe restaurant that brought Mexican food to Corbin, Kentucky way back in 1973. This is followed by a good 2 hour movie at the Corbin Cinema.
I would rank these youthful evenings right up with the best New Years Eve celebrations I’ve enjoyed in Amsterdam or Istanbul. There is no finer feeling than, at 12 years old, being allowed off the farm to have an evening on the town in rural Appalachia.
I can even remember the purple daisy dukes that Vicky Alsip was wearing one night at Taco Tico when I was about 13 years old. Haunted.
Kierkegaard would have had a field day with my Appalachian psyche.
Dan Foley opened the first Taco Tico in his hometown of Wichita Kansas in 1972. He was satisfied for a full 5 years before he began franchising in 1967. A short 6 years later Taco Tico opened in Corbin, Kentucky. Back then Mexicans and Mexican food were scarce in rural Kentucky. I imagine the opening of a bona fide Mexican restaurant was met with fervor.
In 1991 the chain announced plans to sell all of its locations to its franchisees. After years of slumping sales the business had to attempt to remain relevant and this is the course they plotted. Marketing guru Wendell Hearne, of the old Austin band Texas Medicine was instrumental in this decision. While there is precious little information on Foley, Hearne was something of a legend in the industry. He supervised the national roll out of Liquid Paper and upon his passing here in Austin a couple years ago received countless homilies from the lions of the music industry.
Corbin is changing. The city recently went wet. After decades of temperance the wild era of legal liquor consumption was ushered in by the voters in 2012. This new Corbin is set to welcome in a Marshall’s department store. Taco Tico is being bulldozed to accommodate parking for the endeavor.
The Mexican restaurant is reportedly moving to nearby London. Dry as a bone, the competition for eater’s dollars will not be nearly as fraught with peril in Corbin’s northern neighbor.
On my yearly visits to my hometown I would always pop in to Taco Tico to get a bean and cheese burrito and a Pepsi to slake my thirst. From a hard seat in the window I could peer out and see the shuttered Corbin Cinema and the long-gone Lost World Arcade. I’d sit there for a good hour, just wool gathering and daydreaming about my youth in that forgotten part of the world.