When he lived in San Diego, John Carpeaga used to ride his bicycle to Tijuana, Mexico to eat tacos.
He was only 10 years old.
“They didn’t give a crap who came across the border,” John laughed.
John learned how to make tacos by watching the men in Tijuana and always dreamed of opening his own taco shop.
John and his wife, Christale, opened Juanito’s Taco Shop in Bremerton in July. They opened Christale’s Java Hut at the same location the year before.
“I was all in. I had all my money in this,” John said. “We struggled a lot to get it going.”
When the taco shop opened, the Lake Tahuyeh couple had their seven children standing outside holding signs offering free tacos to customers.
And the freebies worked.
“They tasted it and it was over,” John said.
Beginning at 7 a.m., John cooks up fresh Tijuana-style tacos, burritos and tortas every day. He uses top-notch ingredients and leaves the window between the kitchen and dining area open so customers can watch him cook.
John marinates steak for at least a day-and-a-half before serving it up in a dish and has his own special pork seasoning.
“I turn pork haters into pork lovers,” he said.
John said his tacos and burritos are full of meat and he doesn’t add a lot of extra toppings.
“You only add rice and beans to cut back on the meat,” he said.
The Carpeagas even make their own salsa and customers like it so much they buy tubs of it to take home.
The couple sees repeat customers every day and receives great feedback on their food and coffees.
“We have quite a few regulars,” John said. “We see people twice in a day, seriously.”
The taco and coffee shop has a drive-thru and John says it’s the only drive-thru for authentic food in the area.
John said their prices are reasonable, but he’s used to cooking for friends and family for free.
“What was the hardest thing for me was to charge people for food,” he said. “It feels weird.”
John said people seem to enjoy watching him cook and everyone loves Christale’s bubbly personality. He affectionately calls her “my Rachael Ray” because customers constantly tell him she reminds them of the television cooking personality.
The Carpeagas said they hope to expand their hours and offer a larger menu, possibly including fish tacos.
“If you’ve been to Tijuana and enjoyed their tacos, you’ll enjoy this place,” John said.
Juanito’s Taco Shop and Christale’s Java Hut is located at 6721 Kitsap Way in Bremerton and can be contacted at (360) 377-2595.