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Duolingo’s viral taco shop brought in an eye-popping $700,000 last year

Duo’s Taqueria hired local chef Marcella Ogrodnik to cook authentic Mexican food, and turned the marketing effort into a successful restaurant.

Inside Duo's Taqueria by Duolingo (Courtesy)
Duolingo, the language-learning app that’s probably already in your pocket, has a culinary spin-off that’s been making waves — and cash. 

Duo’s Taqueria, tucked away next to Duolingo’s East Liberty building, is more than your average tech office perk. The culinary coup by an edtech company appears to have quite literally paid off:

The restaurant pulled in a cool $700,000 last year.

Created out of passion, not a quest for profit, that revenue figure is bigger than many successful local restaurants can claim. The food is pretty good, too. 

“Our goal with this restaurant is to give back to the Pittsburgh community by providing the best Mexican food in the city,” Luis von Ahn, cofounder and CEO of Duolingo, told Technical.ly. 

The focus on housemade nixtamal tortillas, fresh ingredients and traditional methods has resonated with customers. Signature offerings include the al pastor pork taco, cooked on a vertical spit and paired with pineapple, and the tacos de lengua, made with locally sourced beef tongue. 

Von Ahn, a Guatemalan entrepreneur, said he’s passionate about bringing the foods that he grew up eating to Pittsburgh. “And we know food is a wonderful way to get people excited about learning and speaking a little Spanish.”

An attempt to make a deeper mark on Pittsburgh

Duolingo is a language-learning app that takes  a gamified approach to education. Launched in 2011, it now boasts over 500 million users globally.

The app offers courses in dozens of languages, and its popularity stems from its user-friendly interface, bite-sized lessons, and motivational features like streaks and leaderboards.

In Pittsburgh, Duolingo’s presence continues to get local recognition. Donations to local charities, a leadership position dedicated to social impact and other efforts to keep the community involved in its rapid growth all stand out. Still, the company largely makes headlines for its apt social presence across platforms that plays on current trends and big stunts.

Food at Duo’s Taqueria (Courtesy Duolingo)

That’s why the Duolingo taco shop seemed like another viral marketing gimmick at first. For example, the elaborate April Fool’s brand moment earlier this year teasing a Duolingo-themed ice show.  

This time, Duolingo set out to create a restaurant that’s self-sustaining financially without the pressure to be a major income generator. Launched as a takeout window in 2022, the taqueria transitioned to a full-service, sit-down restaurant in May 2023. 

Pulling in $700,000 in its inaugural year as a sit-down eatery is a figure that would make many local restaurateurs’ eyes water. To Duolingo, however, it’s barely a drop in the bucket. The app earned more than $530 million in 2023, meaning the taco shop only accounted for around one-tenth of a percent in its revenue. 

The winning formula driving the restaurants’ sales is a potent mix of top-notch food, killer branding and a dash of Duolingo’s global appeal, it said. “Great food and drinks and the popularity of the Duolingo brand have all contributed to the success of Duo’s Taqueria,” the Duolingo team told Technical.ly

Plus, it’s a public space for Pittsburghers and visitors to experience Duolingo’s vibe right next to its HQ.

A local chef prepares authentic food for the restaurant 

Duo’s Taqueria menu is a tribute to gastronomic giant Mexico City, according to chef Marcella Ogrodnik.

Chef Marcella Ogrodnik (Courtesy Duolingo)

A Pittsburgh native, Ogrodnik’s culinary journey includes positions in New York, Spain, and California. She’s also the chef behind Café Agnes, a cherished food stand that brought authentic Salvadoran cuisine to farmers’ markets across Pittsburgh.

“I wanted to serve Mexican food as it exists in Mexico,” Ogrodnik told Technical.ly. “Tacos are at the heart of the city’s food culture, so that’s where I started.” 

Standout menu items include the tostadas de atún, featuring raw yellowfin tuna on crispy tortillas, drizzled with smoky salsa negra. And don’t miss the tamal de chocolate for dessert, a rich treat paired with corn-infused crema. Plus, a bar stocked with 75 rare Mezcals from Mexican-owned distilleries, and walls adorned with vibrant Mexican art. 

Duo’s Taqueria occasionally pairs with other local businesses to host specialty events, too, like Pupusa Nights or exclusive Mezcal tastings. It’s like a mini trip to Mexico City without leaving Pittsburgh — language lesson included.

“In Mexico, there is a saying, ‘Sin maíz no hay país,’ which translates to ‘Without corn, there is no country,’” Ogrodnik said. “Every day starts with making fresh tortillas out of nixtamalized corn, using the same basic process that has been used for centuries in Latin America. We stay grounded in the foundation of the Mexican food culture.”

‘Aprende español, get tacos’

In the restaurant, language learning opportunities abound. The atmosphere supports its motto, “aprende español, get tacos.”

Bilingual waitstaff offer service in both English and Spanish, and customers can get a discount for ordering in the latter. Interactive features like flippable drink coasters allow patrons to indicate their language preference while scanning tokens stationed throughout the establishment to unlock animated language tips. To add a playful twist, tables offer a quiz experience, making language learning an integrated aspect of the dining journey.

The well-executed side project may barely register in Duolingo’s P&L, but the marketing endeavor continues to pay off. 

“Primary customers are really anyone in the Pittsburgh region or travelers interested in good Mexican food,” Duolingo told Technical.ly. “We have seen a trend that many diners come to Duo’s Taqueria to celebrate their streak milestones on the Duolingo app.”

Companies: Duolingo

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