The very first customer to walk into Nino Taco left in a huff after his order for a sausage and egg sandwich was nixed.
That was 17 years and about 250,000 tacos ago, long before the restaurant lovingly described as a "hole" by owner Nino Blitz became a landmark in Randallstown and a spicy foothold in otherwise bland suburbia.
Blitz says she has served an estimated 10,000 loyal customers, who have included former Orioles slugger Eddie Murray, his brother Charles, local television reporters and attorneys who periodically step through the squeaky screen door, open seven days a week in the 9000 block of Liberty Road.
Soon, though, the popular shop will undergo its first big change since the arrival of the chili popper appetizer: Blitz is shelving her taco shells in search of a new life in Key West, Fla.
Customers are lamenting her scheduled August departure, though employee John Foster is buying the taco shop and plans no changes.
"I've always been made to feel so welcome here," said Diana Gumas, who lives nearby and stops in frequently for a bean enchilada. "Even though it's not fancy, I love the food."
Blitz said she is selling the shop so she can take on a new challenge in the southernmost point of the United States -- a tropical paradise known for writer Ernest Hemingway, happy hours and nightly celebrations of the sunset.
With businessman husband Sam in tow, Blitz said she might open a Nino Taco in the Florida Keys.
"Tacos have been very good to me," she said of a food she sought as a child, branching out from her Jewish roots and their traditional ethnic meals. "I was the one who served jalapenos in my dressing on Thanksgiving -- much to the horror of my mother."
The 43-year-old Blitz, a mother of two and "most popular" in the Class of 1972 at Milford Mill High School, built the taco shop to fulfil her dream of one day owning a business, much like her mother, Harriet Ackerman, who owned the Pagoda beauty shop in Pikesville.
As a collections clerk just out of school, Blitz catered parties and developed Southwestern-style recipes at home with her husband.
The couple opened a 10-by-10-foot booth in a Carroll County mall in 1977 and tested their concoctions -- selling a 50-cent taco, a $1 burrito and a fruity drink called "Jungle Juice."
From there, Nino Taco was born. But it took awhile for the Tex-Mex phenomenon to hit Randallstown's remote communities of lush green lawns and fieldstone houses.
"One guy came in early on and tried to order a burrito, but he couldn't pronounce it -- he said: 'I want a ur-i-to.' I was disillusioned," she said. "But now, with salsa being the top condiment in the U.S., things have changed. And once I reel customers in, they're here to stay."
She chats with customers at the counter of seven red and chrome stools. While filling orders, customers open up and confide personal stories so private she has nicknamed the counter "The Confessional."
She credits the charm of the nondescript shop, which seats only 22, with attracting suburban and even urban customers to return for more.
And when it's time to serve her last enchilada, Blitz said, she might leave with tears.
"This place is like a family," she said. "I have fond memories, a fondness for my customers, but I do promise annual visits -- much like Ronald McDonald. It's going to be very hard."
Pub Date: 6/03/97