WILMINGTON — It’s been months since the brightly-colored, vaguely Tex-Mex sign for Taco Roo’s Tacos & Chicken went up in September. And, while the restaurant has yet to open — or answer any media questions — it has given the gift of laughter, even if only inadvertently.
The restaurant, located on S. College Road next to UNCW, is apparently owned by Cook Out, but that’s about the sum total of information available. The lack of details sparked several punny headlines, including in StarNews, which asked — “Wilmington’s Taco Roo’s? Or Taco Ruse?” — and WWAY, which declared “LET’S TACO BOUT IT!”
But the real silver lining to the restaurant’s mystifying lack of an opening date (and all-around media blackout) has been the parody page on Facebook. In the absence of any social media presence from either Cook Out or its taco-and-chicken-centric spinoff, the Facebook page has racked up thousands of followers. Many, it seems, came for actual information but stayed (for months now) for the sardonic humor.
The page was created by Wilmington resident Tim Spencer as a joke, but it’s taken on a life of its own. Spencer, who does freelance digital marketing, also said it’s a perfect example of how important it is for brands to control their own narrative online.
Initially, Spencer said he saw the vacuum of an official internet presence as funny, if a little baffling.
“I think it really started back in October when the StarNews published an article on whether it was ‘Taco Roos’ or ‘Taco Ruse’ — that started all the jokes with my coworkers. I thought it was hilarious that there was a UNCW student who posted their friend’s number as the Taco Roo’s contact information and their phone just kept blowing up,” Spencer said. “I just couldn’t believe that it’s 2020 and they had zero web presence, you know, not even a Facebook page.”
Spencer took the plunge in jest, not making much effort to promote the page — but it took off just the same.
“I joked to a coworker that I should make a page — I made it as a joke, not expecting it to blow up. I actually didn’t even tell anyone about it. I didn’t share any of the posts on my own wall — it just grew 100% organically,” Spencer said.
Months later, Spencer’s page has developed a steady following. Fans might have come hoping to find out info on the restaurant, but they came back for regular doses of Wilmington humor, filtered through the very particular lens of Taco Roo’s’ nebulous opening date.
Which begs the question: what happens if Taco Roos ever actually opens?
“People love the Roo’s humor, so I might just turn it into a general Wilmington humor. I’ve been taking Wilmington-area stories and spinning them around to make them about Taco Roo’s, so maybe I’ll just keep the page going as Wilmington humor in general,” Spencer said.
Despite the overall positive response to the page, Spencer has received negative pushback — from people who think he’s the real deal (despite the fact that Spencer’s Facebook page handle is ‘nottacoroos’.)
“There were a few people who were offended that a company would post something that I posted — I had to say, ‘look, it’s clearly labeled as satire and parody, I think you misunderstood,” Spencer said.
If Taco Roo’s or Cookout object to the gentle ribbing, they’ve kept it to themselves. Spencer said he’s never heard from the actual Taco Roo’s (or Cookout).
Still, as the closest thing to an official internet presence, does Spencer have any special insight on when the real Taco Roo’s might open?
“There’s constantly people sending me sort of ‘insider’ information, so it’s kinda tough to vet through it all and see what’s real and what’s not, because a lot of people are trying to make their own jokes about stuff. There’s a constant stream of news and fake news coming through,” Spencer said.
Spencer said he wanted to make sure people knew that, despite the jokes, his parody page was ‘all in good fun.’
“There’s no ill intent towards Taco Roo’s, it’s all in good fun — if I can brighten someone’s day and provide them with a smile because I posted a joke on the Taco Roo’s page, it’s totally worth it to me,” Spencer said.
Another mystery, for another time.
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at email@example.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001