Robert Phalen on leaving Holy Taco and his future business plans

Wants to keep his next project low-key
Robert Phalen

By James Camp Photography, courtesy of Green Olive Media

At the end of January, the rumor mill started humming that Robert Phalen, owner and executive chef of One Eared Stag, had parted ways with his electric taqueria, Holy Taco. Phalen didn’t make a public announcement, and the restaurant continued on with Doug Rouen as its chef de cuisine. We recently caught up with Phalen to hear about the break up and his future plans.

Why did you leave Holy Taco?
It’s been something that I’ve been debating for years. My two partners wanted a different direction for the restaurant. One Eared Stag was more the direction of cooking I enjoy. Not that I didn’t enjoy Holy Taco, but my partners came from different backgrounds. Their vision is totally different from mine.

What did they envision?
They want combo platters and beans and rice. I told them that I wouldn’t do that. They knew I wouldn’t do that unless we were broke.

Originally Holy Taco was different, a little out there. They say people don’t get it. They wanted it dumbed down. How do you dumb down tacos and cheese dip? They said the cheese dip is too complicated. They wanted less peppers. My background is with [Shaun] Doty and [Guenter] Seeger. Their background was pubs. You can see the difference.

So what’s next for you?
I’m working on something else, looking to do another venture. I have new business partners who are more on the same page. We’re around the same age; it’s four of us who are friends. We have something in the works at a new establishment. I would like to do another taqueria. The burger thing has been taking off. I’ve been pursued by certain establishments to do little kiosks. I wouldn’t mind doing a chicken thing or chili dogs and burgers. Something more low-key, more like what we do here [at One Eared Stag] but with other implements. I’m not allowed to say yet.

What’s new at One Eared Stag?
We have our own farmland. It’s about 600 acres. We go hunting. It’s more the ‘You see it, you do it, you plant it, you grow it, you cook it, you serve it’ mentality. We also have new bartenders, new staff coming in, and we hired some new people in the kitchen. It’s still my food. I’m still in the kitchen. I just don’t have the extra stress I had before.