Taco Town has been serving up unique dishes since 1974

In August 1964, Doyle Rutherford opened the Cities Service Station in the building known today as Taco Town in Carthage, Mo. The station closed two years later then served as a diesel shop, the license bureau, an HVAC business and was used as storage before Tony and Montine Ness bought the building, along with the entire block. The Ness’s had lived in Carthage years prior when Tony was the manager at JC Penney on the Carthage square, but they had since moved to Arkansas where they owned a Dairy Crème. Tony and Montine wanted to open a unique Mexican restaurant with their own recipes and secret seasonings. With this business opportunity, they were moving back to Carthage. 

The couple bought the location sight unseen. They had known there to originally be two buildings on the block but believed the service station building had burnt and the old What Not Café restaurant building was still standing. Tony thought the old cafe was what he was getting to start their restaurant in but when he arrived at the location, he found that the old service station was what that was standing. Tony and his brother pushed forward and remodeled the old service station. Taco Town officially opened in June 1974. 

The couple owned and operated the restaurant until December 2008 when they suddenly closed. The day Taco Town closed, Melissa McCune, current co-owner of Taco Town, had called down to the restaurant and Tony stated they were closed until they found a new owner. Melissa spoke with her husband Richard and they met Tony at Taco Town that afternoon. 

“We made a handshake deal that day, then Richard started with the business plan that evening,” Melissa said. “We just could not see Taco Town not being Taco Town. We wanted to make sure that it continued to stay open for the community.” 

Melissa had previously worked for Taco Town in high school, as well as a few other times throughout the years. She had also managed several local chain restaurants, so together she and Richard felt confident with the decision.

In July 2009, Richard and Melissa closed on their purchase of Taco Town, including the recipes and secret seasonings from the Ness collection. They immediately started to remodel, expanding the dining room, changing the kitchen layout, and replacing the exterior, along with doing lots of cleaning. 

They opened for business on Jan. 4, 2010, with a line for the drive-thru around the building and down the block for almost three weeks from opening day, Melissa said. 

In September 2016, the restaurant was stricken with a kitchen fire. Again, they remodeled, expanding the kitchen even more this time, replacing all of the kitchenware and adding a front patio along with new dining room floors. In March 2017, they were able to reopen better than ever. 

“We are proud to offer the same menu from the original owners that they had for 34 1/2 years, but we have added some new menu items as well,” Melissa said. 

They now have a Baja fish menu in the spring, a barbeque pork menu over the summer, and a turkey menu around the holidays. These special menus include fish tacos, barbeque tacos and burritos, turkey tacos, and sweet potato fries and Goo sauce. Each has their own special recipe. Their pork is bought and smoked locally from Cloud’s Meats and their barbeque sauce is from Ott’s in Carthage as well. 

“Most of our money stays local,” Richard said. “We are not a chain restaurant where all the profits are sent out of state. We buy from locally sourced places when we can.”

Melissa and Richard work together to keep the business going. Melissa is usually found working at the restaurant during business hours and Richard, previously an engineer but now a home remodeler, does a lot of the behind-the-scenes work. Together they run a successful, unique, fast and family-friendly restaurant. 

“Our ground beef is flavorful, and our beans are made fresh from dry,” Richard said. 

They currently have around 18 employees and have expanded their drink menu with flavored syrups which are blended at the restaurant. 

They are famous for their homemade Taco Town cheese dip and fresh fried corn and flour chips, and taco shells. A few of their customer favorites include chili or bean burritos, taco salads and taco burgers. 

“Some of our customers come in every day we are open,” Melissa said. “We gain new customers all the time. I have even heard of customers shipping our Taco Town food to their loved ones in Taiwan, Germany and South Africa, among other places. People comment regularly about how they really enjoy the atmosphere and how clean we keep the restaurant.”

Beyond serving great Mexican food that the Carthage community has grown up with, they are also involved in various fundraisers and sponsorships. 

“We provide the schools with student achievement cards, which provides kids with free menu items,” Melissa said. “Every Christmas we also adopt families in the community ensuring them a Merry Christmas. We are proud to support the community.”

Taco Town has been serving the Carthage area for 47 years and Richard and Melissa said they look forward to many more.


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