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“You’re only as good as your last burrito...”

by Carrie Mossein

A guy opens a tacoria in Moab and two years later he’s talking corporate chains. But not before Banditos becomes a full-fledged Cantina – a restaurant and club promising a “curb appeal” Banditos owner Darrin McCollum admits the restaurant currently lacks. What Banditos or its owner does not lack, however, is passion, for food and for business.

“There are probably 10 percent of the population who get to do for a living what they enjoy,” Darrin says. “I really am passionate about what I do.” Darrin said he takes it “very personally” if someone doesn’t like his food. Not the hurt feelings-type personally, but literally. “I created every one of these recipes,” he says. “So if it’s not right, I want to know, and I want to know why.”

Part of the process of keeping a handle on such things are two line checks a day, measuring the taste, temperature and quality of everything that goes out of the kitchen. “With the red sauce, if the chiles are cooked too quickly they are a little bitter,” he says. “Or if they’re held too hot. People can taste it. If they tell me about it, I’ll fix it. “There’s a 100 percent guarantee on everything,” he adds. “If someone is not happy with their meal, by all means I’m going to fix it.”

Darrin grew up in Mexican food-rich southern California, and began working in restaurants when he was 13 years old. When he was 16, Darrin said he “knew” he wanted to own a restaurant. His ambition was to realize this goal by the time he was 25 years old. It actually took 10 years longer, a period of time Darrin worked in many Mexican restaurants, developed a love for creating recipes, and practiced the management thing by opening Pasta Jay’s in Moab in 1992.

“I’ve been in Moab on and off ever since,” he said. “I came back the last time in 1997 to open a restaurant. I waited tables for two and a half years until the opportunity presented itself.” Banditos opened in May 2000 in the long vacant site of a former chain tacoria. His Cousin, Scott Stull, and a friend, Peter Verchick, helped him finance the deal. “I told them I had recipes, location, equipment everything except the money,” Darrin says. “They invested and we did it on a real low budget at first.”

Banditos opened as a self-serve counter restaurant with a menu about 30 percent of the current menu. A year later Banditos expanded its kitchen, obtained a liquor license (peach margaritas, among other specialty drinks available), added outdoor patio seating and became a full-serve restaurant.

“I sold my ’64 Corvette to get us through the first year,” Darrin added. “We took a lot of criticism at first; ‘three dumb white guys trying to make good Mexican food.’ But people like my food. I’ve worked at some really good Mexican restaurants and a lot of people don’t want to do the ‘corporate thing,’ but they have a lot of good systems in place.” “We’re in the midst of Phase III right now. We’re going to build a bar and add 2,500 square feet to the building. It will include a tortilla machine in the front window and a “hitching post” for bicycles and dogs. We’ll have an L-shaped dance floor in the center with a non-smoking section. I want to ventilate it so that everybody can enjoy being in the bar.” Banditos will have “higher-end” menu items, while maintaining the “value-rated” lunches and dinners currently available.

Darrin also plans to reopen for breakfast, something he said he tried the first year the restaurant was open. Darrin also plans to “go back into the kitchen” this year. Running the business end, planning for the expansion has taken him, temporarily, away from what he says he loves to do most, and that is to create. “I get in the kitchen, start putting things together and then run to the office and write it down,” he said. “I haven’t created a new recipe for a while so it’s time to get back in the kitchen.”

While the corporations and restaurant chains may have a lot of good systems in place, Darrin said he won’t change the nature of his own recipe making or that every ingredient used in his restaurant is fresh, even when he, as he plans to do, goes corporate. In trying to choose a “Recipe of the Month” Darrin had trouble finding a recipe that didn’t require two, three, four or five recipes to get to the main fare. “I like the spinning sign and I like the logo,” Darrin said. “There are no cans in our Mexi-can.”

Banditos employs 25 to 30 people, more than half of them full-time. The entire kitchen staff is full-time. Darrin said he “loves it all” in terms of the recipes and dishes available at Banditos, but customer favorites include the fish tacos (salmon, I might specify), the chicken Caesar salad and melt-in-your-mouth baby back ribs with garlic mashed potatoes. “We’ve been recognized by Nation’s Restaurant News, Shape Magazine, Goddess Magazine and others,” Darrin said. “We’ve received some good press.”

A little known service provided by Banditos that the Moab community will appreciate is home delivery – 11 to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. To order call 259-3894, or eat in at 467 N. Main Street. Look for the spinning sign – the only one in town.


Recipe of the Month

Pineapple-Ginger Salsa

Place pinapple on cutting board and chop until it is roughly 1/8 inch pieces. Place all ingredients into a bowl and fold it together until it is mixed thoroughly.


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