The University of White Duck Taco

Newest site embodies the trials and triumphs of taqueria chain

Bold Life last checked in with Aaron Adams and Ashley Clifford in February, just before the pandemic, when the long-time White Duck employees were set to open their own franchise. Eight unprecedented months later, White Duck Taco is finally serving up its crowd favorites in Hendersonville.
Photo by Luke Van Hine

“We had everything in the restaurant except food,” says White Duck Taco co-founder Laura Reuss. In the days before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down bars and restaurants across the state, White Duck had been planning to launch a brand-new location in Hendersonville, one that finally opened June 4. “We were just waiting to actually open.”

Dishing out their crowd favorites like Bangkok shrimp, crispy chicken BLT, Banh Mi tofu, Tuna Tokyo, and signature margaritas, White Duck Taco — on 7th Avenue next to the historic train depot — marks the 9th restaurant for the local chain since they opened their flagship shop in the River Arts District in 2011. It’s an achievement made even more remarkable by the unprecedented struggles of 2020.

Just a few weeks before lockdowns were starting to go into place around the country, co-founder Ben Mixson unexpectedly passed away. “Losing Ben really hurt us badly,” says Reuss. “He was my best friend.” Six months later, though, the stores are persevering thanks to a unique expansion plan.

Unlike many franchises, White Duck doesn’t expand at the whims of investors; rather, Reuss and Mixson developed their own system. “After I have people manage for five years, I give them a franchise,” she explains. “It’s really like you’re going to the University of White Duck Taco — you give me five years, I’ll help you open a franchise.” 

HEALTHY FOOD SERVED WITH A HUSTLE
The secret behind White Duck Taco’s popular brand.
Photo by Luke Van Hine

Her system allows her to provide upward mobility for loyal, hardworking staff. Like the co-owners of the Hendersonville franchise, husband-and-wife team Aaron Adams and Ashley Clifford, who’ve been with the company for a combined nine years.

Reuss says the idea of franchising the brand was never in the plans for White Duck — it just happened organically. “I just didn’t want to clock in for anybody else, ever again. I was just hoping that we could have a taco shop and work for ourselves,” she says. But these days, in addition to the nine locations spanning seven cities and three states — the most distant one is in Nashville — the company has three more taco shops in the works, in sites yet to be disclosed.

“There’s not a whole lot of incentive in this occupation and career that we have, except to go out and open your own thing. So, to keep people who believe in the brand and keep them in our restaurants, we just believe that this is a nice way to say thank you and make the brand even stronger,” Reuss notes. “The hard work you did for me, now we are going to pay it forward and you can do it for yourself.”

At press time, White Duck Taco Shop (500 7th Ave. East, Hendersonville) was open Tuesday through Sunday, 11:30am-9pm, for to-go orders and patio seating. Call 828-595-9871 or see the restaurant’s Facebook for the latest hours and guidelines. 

1 Comment

  • Jennie Kirkpatrick says:

    I’m so proud of what you and Ben created, nurtured and expanded. I like your business model. know you will be successful in going as far as you dream.

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