Mercy’s Taco Pizza comeback story is a tasty one

Merced Flores-Garcia gave pizza fans an early Christmas present in October when he reopened his Mercy’s Pizza Taco restaurant in Pasco.

Facebook and Instagram responses were full of excitement.

City of Pasco employees were ecstatic they could cross the street to enjoy what has become a growing trend: Italian pizza and Mexican food combined together.

Flores-Garcia has gained a loyal following for at least 12 years, possibly more, for his food truck, El Guero Tacos Garcia, located in the Viera’s Bakery parking lot on Burden Boulevard. Drive by on your way to a Tri-City Dust Devils baseball game across the street, and there is always a line at the food truck.

Getting his start

Flores-Garcia got his start in the food industry years ago, when he was hired as a dishwasher in an Italian restaurant in North Carolina. Over time, he was promoted up the ranks until he became head chef.

He worked at that restaurant for 10 years, said his nephew, Jose Peralta.

Family would eventually bring him to the Tri-Cities around 2006.

It wasn’t long until he owned two taco trucks in Pasco – one in downtown near Lewis Street, and the other at Viera’s.

Flores-Garcia ran both trucks, but eventually reduced it to the one on Burden, which has been there for at least 15 years.

But he still felt he needed to go back to Italian food cooking.

“When I moved here, I wanted to combine the two cultures,” he said. “I wanted to combine them on a pizza to see where it goes.”

To do that, he felt he needed a brick and mortar shop.

And in November 2018, he found the place at 524 N. Third Ave., across the street from City Hall.

A lot of the menu items are results of trial and error.

“Before I even opened, I was trying to get the temperature just right because the meat has to be right so it’s not overcooked,” Flores-Garcia said. “Evening out the flavors took a whole week.”

He even tried putting beans on the taco pizza.

“That was no good,” he said with a chuckle.

But the concept – and the diverse menu – immediately took off, Peralta said.

“A woman came in and dined here,” Peralta said. “She posted a photo on Facebook of her food. It blew this up. It got thousands of shares.”

Peralta – who takes care of Mercy’s Taco Pizza’s social media accounts, helps out now and then, and works for a car dealership – said suddenly people were making their way to the Tri-Cities to try his uncle’s Italian-Mexican pizza combinations.

“Spokane, Walla Walla, Seattle, Portland, Vancouver,” Peralta said. “They were coming from everywhere.”

It was crazy at the store for a month straight.

Back then, Flores-Garcia and Peralta would come in at 5 a.m. each day to prep everything, open at 9 a.m., and serve lunch and dinner to a steady stream of customers until 9 p.m. – although some days they would stay open even later if customers were still arriving.

And then, Covid-19 hit.

“The pandemic hit us pretty hard,” said Flores-Garcia. “We could only do takeout.”

Peralta said that the fees some delivery companies charged made it too expensive.

“People quit going out. It was costing us more to stay open,” Peralta said.

So on March 17, 2020, Mercy shut down.

“We waited to open it back up,” Peralta said. “At one point it looked good. Then Covid picked up again.”

Instead of making magic happen in that kitchen, Merced Flores-Garcia moved back over to his food truck to make Mexican food, and he used the restaurant to store his supplies.

It ended up being closed for 2 1/2 years. All the while Flores-Garcia paid the rent.

Finally in late September, he felt it was time to bring back the pizzas.

And on Oct. 7, Mercy’s Pizza Taco was back open for business – much to the delight of his ever-growing fan base.

Restaurant life

Owning and running a restaurant is no easy task.

The National Restaurant Association says that one of every three restaurants fail in the first year.

Reopening a restaurant after a 2.5-year hiatus? The odds are minuscule.

And it’s even harder now.

“Costs across the board are up 30% since Covid began,” Flores-Garcia said.

Peralta uses limes as an example.

“We used to be able to buy 10 limes for a dollar at the store,” he said. “Now, it’s four limes for a dollar.”

Still, Flores-Garcia has a routine that works.

He makes everything from scratch. The dough is put together. The meats are sliced. All of the pizza ingredients are ready to be placed on the next pizza before the store is even open.

“I get here at 6 a.m. to get everything prepped,” Flores-Garcia said. “Then I end up putting in 14-hour days.”

Watching Flores-Garcia work in the kitchen is something to behold. He is an efficient, one-man machine.

Some of the Italian-Mexican pizza combinations at Mercy’s Pizza Taco in Pasco include al pastor, pollo, chorizo, asada, and adobada. (Photo by Jeff Morrow)

He handles the dough so quickly, shaping it, tossing it, and getting the ingredients on it. During the process, he constantly steps to the oven to keep track of what’s cooking (usually four to six pizzas at a time). Then he goes into the back kitchen to prepare four plates of tacos.

“And always,” Peralta said, “there is a pot of beans going on the corner stove.”

Some of the Italian-Mexican pizza combinations include al pastor, pollo, chorizo, asada, and adobada.

The most popular pizzas?

“The asada and the adobada,” Flores-Garcia said.

For those who like their pizzas just Italian, Flores-Garcia offers margherita, a meat lovers and caezers special.

He also sells a 15-inch pepperoni for $8 every day.

Peralta says part of the reason is to serve the homeless people in and around that area.

“Sometimes, they only have $10 on them. But they can come by, and for $8, three or four of them can sit down and have something to eat,” he said.

Flores-Garcia made other Italian dishes – among them alfredo, lasagna, chicken blanco – before the pandemic.

“In November, I’ve started to slowly incorporate them back into the menu for lunch and dinner,” he said.

A comeback story

Between the restaurant and the food truck, almost the entire work force is all handled by family members.

While Merced runs the pizza store, his wife, Irma Cortes, runs the food truck. Their kids either work at the truck or the restaurant. In all, about nine people work at either the pizza store or the food truck.

It’s been a great comeback story.

“Obviously, we’re not where we were before the pandemic,” Peralta said. “But the word is spreading (that we’re back open).”

Still, Flores-Garcia estimates he makes anywhere from 400 to 500 pizzas a week.

That’s just for the walk-in customers.

Being across the street from City Hall has helped with large orders, such as police department training sessions.

The success at the restaurant has Flores-Garcia thinking bigger.

“I want to do a restaurant where we can combine pizzas, other Italian food, and Hispanic food together. Like a buffet,” he said.

Whatever the plan ends up being, as long as he’s cooking food, Flores-Garcia will be happy.

“I love the people,” he said. “I love seeing the reactions of people when they eat my food. There is a family in here right now that comes here three times a week. And I have a lot of regulars.

“I love what I do,” he said. “I love cooking.”

 Mercy’s Pizza Taco: 524 N. Third Ave., Pasco. Contact: 509-380-5560, Facebook, Instagram. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Mondays.

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