Lynne Davidson, the granddaughter of Tito’s Tacos original 1959 founder Benjamin Davidson and who still runs the restaurant daily, recently received the Elizabeth Burns Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Restaurant Association at a gala dinner at the Hotel Casa del Mar.
Davidson and her husband of 20 years, Wirt Morton – the creator of the taco stand’s unforgettable jingle – mingled with restaurateurs from the Los Angeles community, including the association’s president Josh Kopel and Sky’s Gourmet Tacos owner Barbara Burrell, in an evening that included mariachi performances by the all-female Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles.
The third-generation restaurateur began working for Tito’s Tacos at the age of 12, wiping tables for 25 cents an hour. She continued to work in the family business throughout school, from stuffing burritos to serving, finally taking over the restaurant in the 1980s.
Named after Elizabeth Burns, whose family owned the Bob Burns restaurants and the Marmalade Cafe chain launched by her children, Davidson was honored with the award for her tireless work for the restaurant community. She’s a longstanding board member of the California Restaurant Association, a trustee of the California Restaurant Association Political Action Committee, and has held a number of leadership positions including serving on the Policy Advisory Committee of the California Coalition on Workers’ Compensation and chairman of the Culver City Chamber of Commerce where she received recognition as “Small Business Advocate of the Year” from the California Chamber of Commerce.
Association president and former Preux and Proper owner Kopel reflected on the challenges faced by restaurants during and since the pandemic, including rising food costs and supply chain issues. The group took on a whole new meaning during the pandemic, working to eliminate legislation that could potentially obliterate the entire industry, as well as tirelessly advocating to allow restaurants to open patios on the street.
“Survival comes down to luck and a lot of love,” Kopel told L.A. Weekly at the event. “This is an industry that is just so full of optimism. A lot of us thought, oh it’ll be fine. We’ll open up again in two weeks, and then two months and two years later, we’re still struggling with all of the same issues. I think the people who were able to take a pragmatic look and immediately adjusted their business model were lucky. Some people didn’t have that luxury. In my case, it’s very hard to pivot out of fine dining. How many hot dogs and hamburgers would I have to sell out of the back to pay $21,000 in rent? That’s a difficult situation to be in, but there are some people out there who went out against all of the odds, using the resources they were afforded through the restaurant association and government grants.
“When you look at an independent restaurant I hope what you see is investment in the community,” said the eternal optimist, who will soon be opening a new restaurant in L.A. “At the end of the day when those restaurants succeed that community, in turn, invests in them. So if it’s expensive – go once a month not twice a month. The alternative can’t be to go to a large chain that has the advantage of volume, but the ingredients are laced with suffering. Things aren’t getting better, but we are as an industry. Restaurateurs today are the savviest they have ever been. They are running businesses that are more dynamic than in the history of this industry. We want to thrive, not just stay afloat.”