You know you make good food when you have to get a trademark on your recipes.
That’s what Ben Mixson had to do when folks started trying to copy his wife’s recipe for the Bangkok shrimp taco served at their Asheville, N.C.-based White Duck Taco Shop.
“The combination of flavors on our Bangkok shrimp taco is very adventurous – it’s the combination of the Asian-infused sauce on the tacos mixed with the cucumber topping that make it such a hit,” Mixson said. “It sounds weird, but it works so good. It’s clean, crisp and savory all at the same time. After we introduced it, everyone tried to copy it, so we had to trademark it.”
Mixson and his wife, Laura, opened their first White Duck Taco Shop in Asheville in 2011, followed quickly by the opening of a second one there in 2012. The couple has since opened locations in Charleston, Johnson City, Tenn., and, most recently, on Whaley Street in The Mills complex of Columbia’s Olympia neighborhood.
While the Bangkok shrimp taco is perhaps the most popular of the one-and-a-half dozen tacos at White Duck, the grilled fish taco and a steak and cheese taco are also customer favorites, said Mixson, who, for the aforementioned reason, will not share any details about the recipes used to make the tacos. Laura, who has culinary and for science degrees from Johnson & Wales University, created most of the recipes.
“She comes up with these flavor combinations that sound crazy on paper but that work really, really well when we put them together,” Mixson said. “We bring in fresh products every day. All of our food has a lot of flavor and undergoes specific criteria and taste tests. It’s just good.”
Keeping the menu with a limited number of tacos is key to consistency, Mixson said. But there are a couple of new tacos he may add to the Whaley Street location’s menu.
“We are looking at adding the shrimp and grit taco back here,” Mixson said. “We tried it in Charleston and had some logistical issues, but I think we’re going to try it again here.”
Other menu standards are a banh mi tofu taco, a duck taco with mole sauce, a lamb gyro and a thai peanut chicken.
How did White Duck get its start?
Opening White Duck’s Columbia location in January has involved a homecoming of sorts for Mixson, who was born at Palmetto Health Baptist hospital and lived in the capital city until he was 2 years old.
“We want to be in places where we feel like we’ll be well-received and in places that are either being redeveloped or close to being redeveloped,” Mixson said. “We like to activate new areas. That’s why this place works so well.”
The name for the restaurant is actually a nickname given to Laura by her former co-workers.
“She used to work in higher-end restaurants as a waiter, and when she would get back in the kitchen, she would talk so fast and so much that the Hispanic kitchen staff couldn’t understand her,” Mixson said.
“One of the girls said she was ‘la pata blanca’ – a white duck quacking. I always thought it was a cool name because once you get to know her … I’ll just say I like the name,” Mixson said with a laugh.
Who eats here?
“Anyone who likes tacos and just appreciates good, fresh, quality food,” Mixson said.
Clearly he’s right. When the couple opened their first location in Asheville five years ago, their business plan hoped they would feed 200 people a week. Now, some days, that one location will feed 600 people at lunch, according to Mixson.
“It’s just cool to see that growth,” he said.
White Duck Taco Shop
WHERE: 612 Whaley St., Suite C
WHEN: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
COST: Tacos are $3.50 each, with a full lunch averaging $8 to $9.
INFO: (803) 814-0374; www.whiteducktacoshop.com; www.facebook.com/White-Duck-Taco-Shop-Columbia-SC-1542689559387922