For 18 years, Carlos Cruz and his nephew, Angel Cruz, have been hawking taco plates and other quick Mexican food from their portable kitchens commonly known as taco trucks.
Drive down most any major thoroughfare in the Wenatchee Valley and you’re bound to run into one.
Carlos is quick to point out that many of the “trucks” aren’t trucks at all — they’re taco trailers. And some, like the one Angel Cruz owns at Spokane and Mission streets in Wenatchee, Taqueria El Tapatio, hasn’t moved in a long time. In fact he’s been selling on that corner for 17 years.
Over the years, Wenatchee’s taquerias have gone from mobile units in empty lots to stationary trailers with potted plants flanking the sides and large, covered seating areas with restaurant booths or picnic tables underneath. Often, the covered seating includes a heater for winter months and a fan to make summers more bearable. Radios blare tunes in Spanish from local radio stations and TVs play the big soccer games. Posters for dances and banda concerts line the walls, and patrons from all walks of life grab a booth and chow down on the economical tacos, tortas and burritos.
Carlos and Angel were in their mid-20s when they started their business. Carlos said they didn’t have plans to stay with it for more than a couple of years. But now that he’s married and has five children, he’s committed.
“I get up thinking of taco stands,” says Carlos, who sometimes works 16 hours a day.
“I was 24 when I started,” says Angel. “I’m 43 now. Where did the time go?”
Carlos was living in Connell, working for Lamb-Weston, when he proposed the idea to Angel, who’s four months younger than him. Carlos had a friend in Pasco with a taco truck. “I heard they were doing pretty well,” he says.
Together, uncle and nephew decided Wenatchee was a good location for their new business. The two purchased a truck from California and parked it in the lot next to Stan’s Merry Mart, where Wells Fargo Bank stands now.
It took a while to get the business off the ground, but as for cooking the food, “It’s not that complicated,” Carlos says. “We knew how to do the stuff at home.”
A few years back, Carlos and Angel, after adding more and more taco trucks to their growing empire, decided to split up the business. Both agreed that managing one or two, instead of six or seven, might be less stressful.
Despite the fact that they’re now competitors, there are no hard feelings, no unfriendly competition.
“We’re still family,” Carlos says.
In fact, they’re still business partners. They recently opened Taqueria Fiesta Mexicana at Stevens and Mission streets in a building they’ve rented out to other restaurants in the past.
Angel says the new restaurant is still under development, but they serve the same food as the taco trucks, plus shrimp and menudo.
Angel and Carlos aren’t the only Cruz family members involved in the taco truck business. Angel’s brother, Mario Cruz, owns the taco truck at Ferry and Crescent streets east of the 7-Eleven in Wenatchee.
Asked if he knows other taco truck owners, Angel laughs. “The whole family,” he says. “You have my cousin in Brewster. Two cousins have the ones in Manson and Chelan. Another relative is in Okanogan and another in Tonasket. We have the whole river covered in tacos.”
One of the big advantages to taco trucks as opposed to fixed restaurants is the ability to go to where the people are. Carlos and Angel each have a roving taco truck that rolls into county fairs, festivals and other gatherings. During cherry season, they’ll get calls to sell at orchards for the pickers. Occasionally, they’ll cater a wedding or birthday party with the trucks.
“I did one on Sunnyslope a couple of weeks ago,” says Angel. “This guy was going off to college and invited his friends. … I’d rather do those things than being parked. In a good weekend, you can make whatever you’re going to do in a week parked.”
For calls like that, there’s no extra charge on top of the menu prices unless it involves significant travel time, such as to Quincy, Chelan or Leavenworth.
With about five feet in either direction, Angel doesn’t view the limited space in a taco truck as a disadvantage.
“In my opinion, it’s more quick because in a restaurant there’s more walking” he explains. “In the truck, you turn around and it’s ready for the customer. … For quick service, it’s better.”
Angel says the kitchens are pretty typical: “The equipment in there is just like any restaurant,” he says.
Mobile units have to meet the same health requirements as stationary restaurants to receive permits and, as Angel points out, since it’s mobile, they have to make sure they’re up to city planning codes, too.
He recently bought a larger taco wagon in California and is going through the process of getting permits for it and working with the city on where it can be placed on the Spokane and Mission street corner. When the truck is ready, Angel plans to be open for breakfast weekend mornings by 6 — with menudo and handmade tortillas.
Carlos and Angel are aware of the trepidation some have about eating from a mobile restaurant for the first time.
“Through the years, we’ve been getting American people to not be afraid,” says Angel.
“Since we first started, a lot of white people … find we’re a serious business,” adds Carlos. “It (the attitude) is changing. People think they’re good when they see us at the fair.”
Rochelle Feil Adamowsky: 664-7153