Couples that eat at Mighty Taco together stay together.
At least that’s the theory of Joe Fratello and Sarah Potozniak. The Cheektowaga couple is on a mission to dine at all of the Buff-Mex restaurant’s 24 locations.
Since their quest began in September, they’ve made it to 19, each marked off by an orange highlighter in Potozniak’s composition book.
The journey started right around the time Fratello, 31, and Potozniak, 29, started dating. One night, they found themselves eating at the Mighty Taco on Walden Avenue rather than their usual spot in Amherst. That is when the idea popped.
How fun would it be to hit up all of them?
Potozniak wrote it down in her composition book, eager to keep track of the adventures they wanted to have and the activities they planned, like road trips and watching all the Marvel superhero movies in order (they accomplished the latter in time for the “Civil War” premiere).
“You know how when you’re dating someone and you’re learning all new kinds of things about them, and then eventually you build up such an incredible knowledge of them that you kinda forget how it was in the beginning?” Potozniak asked.
She paused and looked over at Fratello.
“I’m set for life. I don’t want anybody else but you,” she said. “So I figured, I want to remember this.”
Potozniak wasn’t a big fan of Mighty Taco until about four years ago, but the regional restaurant chain has a special place in Fratello’s heart. He worked late-night shifts at the Mighty Taco in Niagara Falls while attending Niagara University, and then he was a manager for a few years after. Despite all the time he spent there, he and Potozniak go once or twice a week, depending on how busy they are.
Potozniak and Fratello met at the Niagara Regional Theatre Guild in Tonawanda, where they often rehearse until about 10 p.m. While most restaurants are closed by then, they can always count on chowing down their usual orders. The couple likes that Mighty Taco is relatively healthy, fast, inexpensive and open late.
Potozniak gets a No. 4 Combo, which consists of a refried bean and cheese burrito with strip chips and a medium drink. Fratello usually orders a bean and cheese burrito and a chicken fajita. One recent afternoon, however, he treated himself to his old high school order, which he used to pick up after soccer practice or theater rehearsal: A beef, bean and cheese burrito. He also added a Nacho Buffito, which has Buffalo-style chicken.
“I’m going for a little more today,” he said. “I need it.”
“Treat yourself,” Potozniak reassured him.
In order for a new location to count toward their quest, they must dine together. They also can’t pick up their meal in the drive-thru. They have to sit down and eat at the restaurant.
The couple originally discussed placing a bet on how long it would take to go to all 24 locations, but that quickly fell through. Fratello assumed two to three months, no problem.
One challenge, though: He didn’t realize Mighty Taco had expanded to Rochester.
That shouldn’t be too difficult to get to, Potozniak said, because she plans to show Fratello around her alma mater, Nazareth College. They’ll hit up a Mighty Taco – or two.
When they finish the list, Fratello has a feeling they will keep Mighty Taco on their radar to try new locations as close to their openings as possible. He will always be partial to the Niagara Falls restaurant he worked at, but together, they enjoy the Amherst location most.
“I think it’s because we’ve had a lot of shared memories there already,” he said. “We just end up at that one a lot because of our lives. It’s kind of the centrally located one.”
“We live in Cheektowaga, our theater is in Tonawanda and, apparently, the Mighty Taco we like is technically in Amherst,” Potozniak said, laughing.
Checking out each location has been interesting because they’re not all the same, Fratello said. Well, the food is, but not the atmosphere.
East Aurora’s highlights the village’s Roycroft style.
Walden’s is finished in white tile.
Others have a lot of Buffalo-themed decor and are painted in its quintessential dark green and red.
“Yeah, like classic Mighty Taco. Oh, God,” Potozniak said, putting her hand over her face.
She thought it sounded silly when she said it, but Mighty Taco is comfort food to the couple, both nutritionally and emotionally.
Fratello said it’s important for them to do things together because they’ve both been married before.
There is no easy answer to why some marriages don’t work, he said, but they acknowledged that they may not have done enough with their spouses.
Potozniak remembers being fresh off her divorce and talking to a friend who also had been through one.
The friend told her that one of the hardest things to let go of was the shared narrative.
“Because when you spend a couple years of your life living with someone, you have all these shared stories and all this shared background and shared history,” Potozniak said. “So when you get into a new relationship, you don’t have that. So this is another way we’ve built that.”
Mighty Taco has been more of a quick fix for them lately, as they just bought a house together and have been busy with renovations.
“(The restaurant) has meaning for us because of the turn both of our lives have taken,” Fratello said, “and then we do fun, stupid stuff like this.”