This article is part of “Greek New York’s Finest,” our series dedicated to supporting Greek American-owned businesses in our home base of New York City that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This series of unique stories aims to bring these businesses more attention, publicity and support.
When John “Solo” Tsolomitis decided to open his latest small business venture in March 2019, no one warned him that he would have to pivot operations in a major way only one year later.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and forced restaurants across the United States to close in March, Solo took it on with full force by personally staffing his store in White Plains, New York for weeks on end.
Margaritas, frozen drinks, rum punch, tacos and salads — Solo distributed all of them to customers who came to support Cantina Taco & Tequila with pick-up and delivery orders during the peak of the pandemic in the Northeast.
“We had put a lot of effort into the hospitality aspect during our first year open,” Solo told The Pappas Post. “We’ve gotten a lot of local support here and once people felt comfortable to order food they started coming.”
The Washington Heights native said his store was even spared from the forced closures that others endured; and because he was able to stay open he wanted to make a gesture of what he called “Greek philanthropy.”
The gesture? Delivering anywhere between 200-300 meals to White Plains Hospital every day at the height of the coronavirus outbreak in April.
“I remember the day when I delivered food and a nurse told me it was the first day that they had an empty bed,” Solo said. “This was after New York hospitals had been flooded with patients.”
Cantina Taco & Tequila remains a relatively new enterprise for Solo, but the hospitality and philanthropy he implements into the business go back more than three decades.
As a young boy, Solo worked alongside his father Thomas who owned the now-closed Roxy Coffee Shop near the World Trade Center for 35 years. The store closed in 2010.
“I’ve been involved in the small business world all my life,” Solo said. “Watching my father every day taught me a lot about hospitality and how to talk to customers.”
One of those customers, Salome Facundo, had this to say about his experience at Cantina:
“After the whole COVID-19 I decided to go out for some food and drinks for the first time,” Facundo said. “The manager was amazing and the waiter and helpers were great.”
Solo said the number one hit at his restaurant is his speciality “Juanito’s Margaritas,” which he received legal permission from the state of New York to sell as “liquor-to-go” alongside meals.
“People love the margaritas,” he said. “It’s so rare in New York for people to get a meal and a take-out drink. It’s fun and it’s added a level of festivity in such a dreary time.”
The Cantina co-owner said his store’s newfound success with “liquor-to-go” has inspired him to launch his own speciality margarita brand with a tentative release scheduled for spring 2021.
Photographs / Darden Livesay, The Pappas Post
Solo’s expertise expands beyond even food and restaurants and into acting, where he landed his first major gig in 2011, starring in the Edward Burns-directed comedy/drama film “Newlyweds.”
“Most of my acting stuff is more dramatic but I like comedy,” he said. “Doing the Greek comedy videos brings me closer to who I am and keeps me creative. The power of today is that you can make your own work.”
Cantina Taco & Tequila is located on 166A Mamaroneck Ave in White Plains, New York 10601.
Footage by Darden Livesay; video edited by Maria Wilson.
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