ORLEANS – On Monday morning, the sounds of The Specials' "Ghost Town" wafted through the air outside Las Chidas. Maybe that's a coincidence, but it's an apt description of the sleepy stretch of Route 6A near Town Cove, especially during the quiet winter months.
But one step into Meredith Gallant's new artisan taco joint and it's clear the Harwich resident is interested in offering patrons more than just a good meal. She wants to bring a restaurant with a distinct color and personality to Orleans.
"If you kind of took a SoCal location and just dropped it on the Cape, that's what we're going for," said Meredith, now in her third week in business at the site of the former Local Scoop ice cream parlor. "Very surfy, edgy. This place is more about the energy, not just having a long list of items on the menu."
Meredith and her husband, Mac, co-own a number of Lower Cape establishments including the Local Break in Eastham and Hog Island Beer Co. in Orleans. Last year, Hog Island expanded to a second location in Wellfleet.
But after 16 years working as a liquor wholesaler on the Cape, Meredith, who spent more than a decade growing up working in restaurants, started getting the itch to run her own spot.
"I'd kind of been wanting for the past few years to be part of one of our establishments," she said. "The three previous, there really wasn't a place. We didn't want to take a job away from anybody. We have really loyal, long-time employees that have been working for us a long time. I couldn't pull a salary from anybody or justify paying myself if there wasn't a place for me."
Then one day Mac happened upon the Local Scoop. After talking with the owner, he learned that the space was going up for lease.
"He came home that night and said 'I think I found a restaurant for you.' I was like 'What? What are you talking about?'"
Las Chidas opened Jan. 26 to a buzz of local excitement. And stepping foot inside, it's not hard to see why. From custom, wall-sized paintings to walls adorned with quotes from "Point Break," the small, intimate space boasts a carefully curated surf style that while completely dug into its local environs also feels like a fun escape. In back, the bathrooms are vividly colored with glow-in-the-dark graffiti courtesy of Garrett "G. Love" Dutton, whose artwork also hangs in the hallway immediately outside.
"Mac has been the total inspiration behind what you see here," Meredith said. "The creative side honestly came 100 percent from him in terms of building this place."
The Gallants also built the kitchen from scratch, complete with all new equipment and appliances.
"We knew that we wanted to do a place that was done right with all the bells and whistles," Meredith said. "Everything in the kitchen is brand new. We didn't opt to start with used equipment. That's what we had to do with Local Break back then."
Chef Amanda Kotb presides over a small but varied menu that puts refreshing twists on standard Mexican fare. The mushroom tacos are topped with a tomato and pumpkin puree, for instance, while the pork belly tacos are jazzed up with ancho chili and guava glaze.
And while not a Mexican food staple, you can never go wrong with wings.
"I know the wings do really, really well at our other places, so I wanted to do our spin on some different type wings," she said.
With her background in liquor sales, Meredith was able to put her own unique stamp on the restaurant's cocktail offerings. Those include "spirit free" options for those who don't drink.
"Space on a menu is very valuable real estate," said Meredith, who also works as a bartender at the restaurant. "I'm not interested in putting a cosmo on my menu. Even a paloma, something that may not be super mainstream to everybody, isn't something I want to list on my menu. I don't want to list just my house margarita on my menu. So I tried to incorporate as many tequila and mezcal cocktails that are not margaritas.
"The Gunsmoke, that's bourbon and mezcal," she said. "That's something that you don't see."
Patrons can expect to see a small menu of offerings when they come to Las Chidas, but those offerings will change up regularly, Meredith said.
"We're trying to constantly improve," she said. "We're not saying that the opening recipe is what will be there in another month. If it doesn't work, we're willing to tweak it and move forward."
The winter opening gives the 30 workers who make up the Las Chidas staff plenty of time to ramp up for what is sure to be a busy summer season. Come summer, another 10 seasonal employees could be added to the restaurant's ranks, Meredith said.
But for now, she's taking the time to enjoy the start of her latest venture.
"It's more than what I could have hoped for," she said. "The vibe between the people who work here and the people that are coming in, it feels like we've always been doing this. Everything is flowing just the way that it should be."
Email Ryan Bray at firstname.lastname@example.org