Long before starting the Rusty Taco franchise, Rusty and Denise Fenton were lovers of food at their core. They’d spend weekends tuning into PBS for cooking shows, gaining inspiration for recipes and jointly running their own in-home test kitchen. Before photographing food experiences on Instagram was a thing, Rusty and Denise bonded over their tasty adventures, documenting with cell phone cameras and sending pictures to family and friends of what delicious dishes they had eaten while out and about.
Not all meals were created equal though, and for Rusty and Denise, Mexican food stood above the rest.
The two sought out local taco places on road trips, making gas station taco stands a must-stop. With a handy notebook in their glove compartment, they kept track of their favorite meals and jotted notes on subtle differences from shop to shop.
“Rusty’s love for food goes back to his history growing up in Houston, Texas. He had a very passionate affair with Mexican food and the culture and cuisine. Rusty Taco was something we dreamed about for a long time. Rusty loved to think out loud, talk out loud about the prospects of opening a taco restaurant. We just used to brainstorm,” said Denise.
“One day, we found a taco place that was at a gas station and we thought it was the coolest thing in the world. We said, ‘Why don’t we do that some day.'” Denise Fenton, Brand Director, Rusty Taco
So one day, the couple put their dreams into action. After passing an old gas station every weekend for six or seven years, Rusty reached out to the landlord with an interest in taking over the Greenville Avenue property for his taco spot. In 2010, the Dallas, Texas, location would become the first-ever Rusty Taco.
“We opened our doors at 7 a.m.,” Denise recalled.
“We were able to stay open until we ran out of food at lunch. We had to shut the restaurant down and prepare for Day 2. We prepped through the night, and pretty much the same thing happened the next day. The third day we got our act together and had enough food to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. We got such a great response from the community.”
Interest in expanding mounted as popularity for the fast casual restaurant grew. Along with his business partner at the time, Steve Dunn, Rusty franchised the Rusty Taco brand and signed off on operating partner Bruce Ringgenberg launching a restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2011.
As his business was beginning to take off, growth of the company under Rusty’s watch suddenly ended in 2013, when he passed away after a battle with cancer.
What began as Rusty’s vision now lives on through his wife, Denise.
“As a brand, we stay true to what he created because we remain so inspired by him. Our locations have the story of how we were created along with a photo of Rusty and our four daughters at our favorite gas station taco place,” said Denise.
“We share that story inside the restaurants because we want people to know there was a Rusty. Rusty Taco is named after a man who had a vision, a dream and who was passionate about food, family and the community.”
The family organization still operates with its original concept to this day, featuring delicious tacos at 27 locations in six states. Rusty Taco serves authentic, street-style tacos with fresh ingredients for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu also includes chips, guacamole, queso and service for beer and margaritas, proudly made and inspired from a trip to Mexico with fresh lime juice and tequila.
As part of Inspire Brands, Rusty Taco has the opportunity for expansion without sacrificing its authenticity and quality food the restaurant has come to be known by. For Denise, the partnership is an opportunity to pick up where Rusty left off and continue to build off of Rusty Taco’s dramatic growth.
“Rusty had big dreams and he inspires me to this day. This is our chance to take Rusty Taco to another level. The relationship and partnership with Inspire Brands is such a blessing. I know that it’s going to continue to grow with their support,” said Denise.