Late-night eating is an essential activity for most college students at some point, whether partying or studying.
Tugo Taco is a student-owned and operated taco stand run by three seniors, Sam Melton, Ryan Hudson, and Jack McDowell. The three went to high school in Nashville together, and had the idea to start the stand in 2021. They were inspired by a previous student food stand here at The University of Tennessee, NeverFull Waffles.
The first semester of their senior year, the students were interested in ways they could make money. One of their friends had a hotdog stand, so they bought it for $2,000 and utilized it as a taco stand. They sought out advice from NeverFull Waffles’ Bryce Vickers and Johnathan Spencer (Goose) to help jumpstart their business. The advice was to become an LLC, or a limited liability company, which is exactly what they did.
After a slow start and some personnel changes, Tugo Taco began to take off in the Spring semester. Melton and Hudson took fewer class hours to be able to dedicate more time to Tugo Taco. They started networking and one day talked to Cool Beans, whose owner agreed to have the stand outside. With this new gig, they needed another worker, a student who initially only agreed to help for one night.
“I was never a part of it – I’m just a marketing major,” Jack McDowell said. He remains with the Tugo team today, as its self-declared head of security, creativity and vibes.
“I don’t know what we would do without him, honestly,” Melton said.
The three students have had great success outside of Cool Beans, making more than $1,500 some nights, and more than $4,000 on weekends. They have found many loyal customers, like UT basketball player Olivier Nkamhoua, who called the tacos the “best in the city, in the world.”
Since McDowell is graduating this semester, Melton and Hudson are starting to plan for the future. One thing they learned from NeverFull Waffles is that if you do not want the company to die after you graduate, you have to also target a younger audience such as the freshmen and sophomores on campus. The entrepreneurs are looking for other places on the strip that are more accessible to a younger audience, since Cool Beans is only a 21 and up bar, and possibly looking for younger workers to get involved in the business.
Tugo Taco is also making appearances on campus. Every once in a while the stand shows up by the fraternities, or even at the baseball games. They accept VolCard, as well as cash and card.
Right now, most of the money they make from the stand goes right back into the company and into saving up for the future. The Tugo team is either looking to invest in a food truck or an actual restaurant to advance their business, but they have not decided which route they want to go yet. This summer they plan on attending the Anderson County Fair, Vegfest, a vegan event, and are catering a couple of grad parties. They hope to attend more baseball games and sporting events in the future.
Find Tugo Taco on Instagram, @tugo.tago.