El Taco Real goes smokeless on weekends

By Susan Brown
susan.brown@nwi.com, (219) 836-3780 | Tuesday, March 31, 2009

HAMMOND | On the heels of celebrating its 35th anniversary Wednesday, El Taco Real will go totally smoke-free on weekends beginning Friday.

The weekend ban will kick in at 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and all day Sundays, not only in the restaurant but also the bar.

"I just want to be ahead of the curve and be an innovator," said owner Raymundo Garcia.

As part of easing into the weekend ban, smoking already has been prohibited on Sundays for several weeks.

"It's been received very, very well," Garcia said. "People are very happy about it."

Garcia said that wasn't the case when the family owned restaurant first banned smoking in a new room added to the restaurant in the early 1980s. Smokers were upset because they wanted to be seated in the new room, but the family stuck to its guns on the issue, he said.

Today, more than 85 percent of the restaurant's patrons ask to be seated in the nonsmoking section, Garcia said.

"They're very specific about it and willing to wait," he said.

Garcia said the family's position was cutting edge in the 1980s when the concern about second-hand smoke was coming to the forefront. With evidence since having shown second-hand smoke to be a legitimate danger, and the Legislature looking at a statewide ban in public places similar to California, New York and Illinois, Garcia said compromise seemed to be in order.

"Eventually the Legislature will do what it will do, but we're making a gesture toward a conciliatory position," he said.

"The issue is dinner time," he said of weekends when more families frequent the restaurant. "It's a family restaurant. Smoking is not the right thing here."

Garcia said it has been proven smoking causes cancer. "If we start with the proposition that smoking causes cancer, it's no longer a civil liberties issue," he said.

Garcia said a table and stools will be placed on some green space outdoors for smokers' comfort.