tourdetaco-3

How Facebook (and Philly media) nearly killed the Tour de Taco

Bicycling with friends is fun. Tacos are delicious. Put the two together and you have the makings of an amazing day-trip. That’s how it seemed to Brandon Gussoni and his pal Justin Tucker when they thought up what the called the “Tour de Taco” over drinks at Bob & Barbara’s. They’d pick 10 taquerias, organize a route, gather a group, advise the restaurants when they’d be arriving and then zip through the city, eating tacos as they went.

“It seemed like the greatest idea ever,” Gussoni remembers. Along with a few other bike-enthusiast friends, he put the event together, and held it every summer for the next three years. As the eve of the fourth annual TdT approached, Gussoni ran into an unforeseen problem: too many other people felt the same way.

Last Monday, the 33-year-old Norristown native went from being psyched about the upcoming tour to nervous as to whether he could pull it off. The blogosphere (for lack of a better term) had discovered the two-wheeled taco crawl and had begun promoting it to their audience. Their readers ate it up — who wouldn’t? News of the event flew through the Philly segment of the taco-loving Internet like a salsa-covered strand of virulent DNA.

RSVPs to TdT IV: Straight Outta Chompton on Facebook swelled, jumping from 40 to 120 people in less than 3 hours. When the number closed in on 200, Gussoni gulped and turned the event page private. All of a sudden, he was filled with logistical worry.

Whether you’re a tiny South Philly taqueria or a Mexican restaurant run by Jose Garces, there’s a big difference between feeding 40 people at once and feeding 200. When you’re a narrow Philadelphia sidewalk, there’s a big gap between being able to hold 40 parked bikes and accommodating five times that number. Then there was the question about permits — if Gussoni led this large a cohort of bicyclists through city streets, was he in danger of getting stopped by authorities?

None of the blog writers spoke with or emailed with Gussoni before posting about his event, but then again, they didn’t have to. All relevant info was available on the public FB event page.

Adjua Fisher, assistant editor of Philly Mag’s BeWellPhilly blog, was first to put up an article. Fisher told Billy Penn that she found out about the TdT from a co-worker. “It seemed like an awesome and unique idea, one we wanted to give some attention.” She did in fact send Gussoni an FB message asking for more info, but since the two weren’t officially “Friends,” it ended up in the little-known “Other Messages” folder and went unopened.

Passyunk Post was another blog that published a pointer article on the Tour. Author Taylor Farnsworth said she first became aware of it when one of her own FB friends RSVP’d and it showed up in her News Feed. Since she’s a former competitive cyclist, the event title immediately caught her eye.

“It’s not like we didn’t want the press, necessarily,” Gussoni explains. “But we weren’t really ready for it.”

The inaugural Tour de Taco in 2012 had just 20 or 25 participants, but they were influential ones. Natasha Laurenson and Steph Irwin, who are involved in the Philly Naked Bike Ride, were on board (Erica Nagurney also helped organize). Artist Yis Goodwin, aka Nosego, drew up a custom logo for t-shirts.

The next year, TdT II: Carnitas Revenge pulled a crowd of 30-35, and last year’s TdT 33⅓: Return of the Chorizo hosted 45. Gussoni has been refining his organizing tactics each year. He implemented a pre-order form, so that restaurants wouldn’t get slammed with surprise orders, but would instead be ready to pump them out as soon as bicyclists showed up. He began collecting pre-payments for these orders, although he has not yet had a year where he’s broken even.

Gussoni’s day job is in project management, so he’s up to the challenge of making the TdT a big thing — he’s just not sure he wants it. But Facebook is a public square that’s a whole planet wide, and all it takes is one article for an event to blow up.

Will Tour de Taco return in 2016, bigger and better than ever? As long as this year’s ride goes off without a hitch, signs point to yes.

Photos by Gabe Zapata

×