Food is the universal language. That’s why Duolingo, the Pittsburgh-based language learning company, is opening a restaurant with an educational component near its headquarters in East Liberty.
Helmed by chef Marcella Ogrodnik, Duo’s Taqueria will begin operating at the end of June. To start, there will only be a takeout window, but by 2023, the long-vacant, 2,580-square-foot space at 5900 Penn Ave. will include seating for about 100 people. Hours will be 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Patrons will enjoy Mexico City-inspired street tacos, agua frescas, salsas and sides, and will get discounts on their meal by taking a short Spanish-language challenge. Spanish is the most popular language to learn on the Duolingo app in the U.S.
After placing your order, you will be asked if you’d like to take the Español Challenge to claim the discount. The challenge is a single, speech-based question pulled from Duolingo’s expansive curriculum. The built-in microphone will assess your response.
Duo’s discount will change often. It could be 10% to 20% off your meal or a free menu item such as a taco or chips. The goal is to get people to keep trying the Español Challenge for different rewards.
“Duolingo is a Pittsburgh company, so we wanted to give back to our city with amazing food and discounts to show people that learning a new language can be fun and rewarding,” says Charlie Barber, Duolingo’s senior experience designer.
Duolingo supplied the upfront capital and initial operating costs, but Duo’s Taqueria will operate as a standalone restaurant separate from the company’s core business. The eatery will employ seven people. The company is actively looking for applicants who are bilingual in Spanish and English.
Ogrodnik, a Pittsburgh native, returned to her hometown in 2019 after working in eateries in New York, Spain and California. Her menu combines inspiration from traditional Mexican techniques with Pennsylvania ingredients. Previously she was the operator of Café Agnes, a food stand selling Salvadoran cuisine at farmer’s markets in Pittsburgh.
In March 2021, Duolingo partnered with Pigeon Bagels in Squirrel Hill to celebrate the launch of its Yiddish language course. Customers earned a free breakfast by uttering a Yiddish phrase. Duolingo has no plans to expand further into restaurants beyond Duo’s Taqueria.