Bob’s Rockin’ Tacos began as a makeshift taco stand in the Communications Residential College lounge. Today, it’s a budding YouTube series where Bobby Ramirez (Comm ‘15) shares his recipes and interviews local bands as they devour his creation.
Talking over tacos might sound like a disastrous idea for an interview series, but Ramirez says he wants to catch his guests with their mouths full. As band members struggle to respond through a big bite of barbacoa, viewers get to see the human side of the artists.
“It’s kind of endearing to see someone whose music you respect so much, on camera, with salsa dripping from their lip,” Ramirez says. “Everything I do with Bob’s Rockin’ Tacos, I just want it to feel personal, not stuck up, and as if you were friends with me already.”
In fact, Ramirez is already friends with most of his guests. Many are members of bands he has met while working concerts at Thalia Hall or hanging out at shows around Chicago. It’s not a hard sell to bring them over to his Pilsen, Chicago home to go on camera.
“I have a backlog of people that want to schedule interviews,” Ramirez says, “because they’re all just like, ‘Oh, free tacos? Fuck yeah!’”
Ryan White, bassist for local new wave band Dimwaves, met Ramirez while working security with him at Thalia, and appeared on Bob’s Rockin’ Tacos in March. White says he felt more comfortable talking to Ramirez on Bob’s Rockin’ Tacos than he has in most other interviews he’s done as a musician.
“There’s no lights, glitter and glam on you,” White says. “You just go in there and he has one cam set up, no extra mics, no frills. I felt like for half the thing I was just eating a taco. I forgot it was an interview.”
Years before he sat down with Dimwaves to share a new barbacoa recipe, Ramirez was a sophomore RTVF major living in CRC. That’s when he realized people would pay good money ($2 each) for the tacos he had learned to cook while growing up in Yuma, Arizona.
The lines were so long that Ramirez started bringing his speakers down to the first floor lounge of CRC to liven up the atmosphere while people waited. He made a taco playlist on Spotify, a medley of the Latin classics his parents played at home and the songs he heard drifting out of people’s cars back in Yuma.
“I would pick a weekend, cook a shit-ton of tacos and sell them to people either before they were going out or after they came back and were drunk,” Ramirez says. “I would just make a killing.”
As business boomed, Ramirez and his friends joked about an imaginary restaurant called Bob’s Rockin’ Tacos where patrons would chow down on cheap, greasy food next to a stage where punk bands would play.
Of course, Ramirez never actually wanted to work in a restaurant – he thought that would take the joy out of food. But his former roommate, Communication junior Catherine Yang, says that did not stop him from dreaming up ways to capitalize on his love of cooking.
Yang remembers Ramirez as an energetic early riser, who was particular about keeping the kitchen clean and eager to share his food with her. She says he was always cooking, always down to hang out or listen to music and always taking the ‘L’ to Pilsen to buy esoteric ingredients, like the hibiscus leaves he uses to brew agua de Jamaica tea. His restless energy also led him to churn out a constant stream of Bob’s Rockin’ Tacos business ideas.
First was Bob’s Rockin’ Tacos the restaurant and music venue. Then came Bob’s Rockin’ Tacos the food truck. After that, Ramirez started talking about writing a Bob’s Rockin’ Tacos cookbook with illustrations from Yang.
He finally decided on Bob’s Rockin’ Tacos the YouTube series after a disastrous attempt to spend a year in Europe after graduation. Ramirez planned to stay with a friend in England for a month before traveling to Italy to teach English until the next summer. But after spending all his savings on a one-way flight to Manchester, he learned the Italian consulate had denied his application for a work visa.
Stranded in England, Ramirez worked in an ice cream shop in North Yorkshire until he saved up enough money for a plane ticket home. He wound up back in Chicago just before New Year’s, months earlier than planned.
“I came back with no plans because none of that shit was supposed to happen,” Ramirez says. “It was just this weird moment where I was like, I have all this free time on my hands, I don’t necessarily have a full time job that takes up a bunch of time, so I needed to do something.”
Bored, one day in January, Ramirez posted on Facebook that he was thinking of starting “a food and music video blog where I interview starving artists while we gorge on my recipes.” He vowed that if the post got 100 likes, the series would launch within the month.
The post hit triple digits in less than three hours. Exactly one month later, Ramirez uploaded his first video, a recipe for agua de jamaica.
Since then, he’s interviewed members of the bands Falcor Friends, Dimwaves, Lala Lala and Glam Camp, and shared recipes for carne asada, barbacoa and potato tacos. Already, strangers have started coming up to Ramirez at shows to tell him they’ve seen his series.
“I feel like so far it’s still not anything whatsoever,” Ramirez says. “A couple hundred views is nothing to brag about nowadays ... but it’s growing in a way that feels very organic and that I’m proud of and want to keep doing because I could see it being a cool thing.”
Ramirez hopes to interview local indie bands Flesh Panthers and NE-HI soon. He also wants to upgrade his recording equipment and find someone to replace his tripod as the show’s cameraman.
In the long run, though, Ramirez plans to find steadier work as an event producer. He’s already applying for jobs around the country, which might pull him away from Chicago and leave him with much less time for side projects. But Ramirez says he’ll do everything he can to keep Bob’s Rockin’ Tacos alive if he lands a full-time gig.
“In the meantime,” he says, “I’m having fun literally just working concerts and cooking tacos every day, so I’m cool with living that life for a while.”