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January 29, 2013

UNIQUE TAKE ON TACOS: Jeffersonville native’s locally focused Mexican restaurant celebrates one year

LOUISVILLE — For the average restaurant patron, the words ‘fine dining’ most likely remind them of crisp white tablecloths, individually prepared dishes and an exotic menu that’s probably out of their price range.

Chef Gabe Sowder wants to change this common perception of high-end eateries, and he’s using his cooking expertise coupled with one of America’s favorite foods, the taco, to accomplish it.

“I was always really disappointed that in fine dining you make this really awesome great food, but only a certain class really gets to eat it,” Sowder said. “So my idea was let’s take a lot of these principles of fine dining but apply them to fast food.”

A year ago, Sowder transformed his idea into reality when he opened Taco Punk on East Market Street, now known as Louisville’s NuLu district. 

The 1993 Jeffersonville High School graduate combines fast service, local high-quality ingredients, classic cooking techniques and environmental awareness around a common taco theme. 

But the product itself is anything but ordinary.

“We’re changing the game, so to speak, in that for a long time fast food has been associated with a very low-quality product. What we’re trying to do is take the situation of having a very casual, fast-service style, but on the food end keeping the food quality just as high as you would find at a fine-dining restaurant,” he said. 

Sowder didn’t always aspire to be a chef. At Wabash College, he majored in English with hopes of becoming a writer. When the writing market didn’t quite cooperate, he realized working in restaurants could allow him to travel the nation while keeping cash in his wallet. 

“During college, I had started working at restaurants and figured out it was a pretty good way to earn money for one person. With a decent set of skills, you could end up in any city in the United States,” Sowder said. “When I realized the more skills you acquire the better you are — the better pay you get — it just naturally progressed that I had enough skills to be a chef.”

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Judy Lunsford works on a lesson plan for her students with fellow teachers, Ellen Rothstein and Adam Stephens, in her classroom at Northaven Elementary in Jeffersonville Wednesday afternoon. Lunsford, a new addition to Northaven, will be teaching second grade.

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