La Taguara creates fare derived from family Venezuelan recipes

Since the pandemic began, Jeykell Badell of La Taguara has been operating in survival mode.
pabellon from La Taguara
Photo by Larry Chua
Pabellón is Venezuela's national dish (and a favorite at La Taguara), composed of black beans, shredded beef, rice, white cheese, sweet plantains and an arepita.

Since the pandemic began, Jeykell Badell of La Taguara has been operating in survival mode. He says this has been “the toughest thing since we opened in these seven beautiful, amazing years.” Badell says if the pandemic occurred in his first year, he would have been closed by now. At the onset, La Taguara’s catering opportunities for the university and companies like American Family Insurance were canceled. Then came the more than 25 summer events that didn’t happen, drastically impacting sales at the restaurant.

For the past year, it’s been all about reinvention and trying to survive. Badell had offered takeout and delivery prior to the pandemic, but not to the extent he has lately. He partnered with Christine’s Kitchens’ delivery service to offer take-and-heat kits. He also sells kits directly for pickup at La Taguara’s East Washington Avenue storefront.

It’s a far cry from when La Taguara opened on Aug. 1, 2013, when they sold out of absolutely everything that day. Since then, the restaurant has become a staple as the only Venezuelan restaurant in Madison, and one few examples in the state.

Badell moved to the United States in 2000 from Valencia, Venezuela, and climbed the ladder in the restaurant industry, starting as a dishwasher and eventually becoming a general manager at different spots in Madison. He started to lose his passion for the work and wanted the excitement that came with operating his own restaurant.

As a Spanish-speaking immigrant, he says people thought his food would be Mexican — but it is completely different. Most of the menu items are based on his mom’s recipes. She visited Madison from Venezuela and cooked. Badell tried to write down everything, which was a challenge because she didn’t use measuring cups. He’s since branched out to add dishes from other Latin American countries, including Costa Rica and Puerto Rico, but he stays close to his Venezuelan roots.

Jeykell Badell and his mom inside of La Taguara

Owner Jeykell Badell (right) based most of the menu on recipes created by his mom, Shakunthala Herrera. Photo by Larry Chua

At first everyone asked about tacos, so he put them on the menu. When customers ordered tacos, he’d also bring out mini empanadas and arepas (cornmeal-based discs used for sandwiches) so people would try Venezuelan cuisine. Tacos eventually came off the menu.

Badell says the first three years of business involved working the counter and explaining everything, but eventually everyone came to understand the offerings. “Now it’s so great to see someone walking in and order an arepa with this, this or this,” he says. “I think we took the time to teach people and show and explain what the items [are].”

Pabellón, Venezuela’s national dish, is a must-order. Badell says, “It’s a tradition, it’s your mom[’s] cooking.” Almost everything at La Taguara is also naturally gluten free, and there’s a dedicated fryer for gluten-free items. Badell’s arepas are made with corn flour, which keeps the dish gluten free.

arepa on a plate

Arepas are a staple at La Taguara. Photo by Larry Chua

While Badell says those in the restaurant industry, including himself, are scared about what’s coming next, he’s grateful for the support and says, if anything, he’s fortunate to have had the pandemic occur in his seventh year of business as opposed to his first.

“Support of the community in Madison has been outstanding. I pray for them every day,” Badell says. “You get so many people who just want to buy a gift card. You see notes like, ‘Please don’t close,’ ‘Hang in there.’ Words that make you continue and make me strong … We keep open because of them.”

Maija Inveiss is an associate editor at Madison Magazine.
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