From food trucks to restaurants: El Paso chefs serve up BBQ, ramen and burgers in new digs

 

From food trucks to restaurants: El Paso chefs serve up BBQ, ramen and burgers in new digs

Here are the guidelines that food trucks in El Paso need to follow to operate Wochit

The words restaurant owner certainly sound good to Randy Garcia, who opened his brick and mortar location of Chase the Taste in November of 2017 in the Northeast.

But don't get him wrong.

Garcia still has a strong connection to the food truck that got him where he is today.

"To be honest, I didn't start cooking until I got the food truck. I had worked in restaurants, but mostly in the front talking to people and a lot of bartending" said Garcia, whose father Jose Luis Garcia is a longtime chef, who works at the Hyatt Place and has worked at other hotels in El Paso and the El Paso Country Club.

Garcia owned his food truck for about three years before opening the restaurant at 10771 Gateway Blvd. S.

"But then low and behold it was a cool thing. I still have the food truck. It's something that got us to this point.... She's got a name — Betsy," he said. "It's kind of hard to let go of her now. She's kind of a family member."

Betsy, a pistachio green food truck accented with food and desert images, still comes out for special events and catering jobs. But Garcia said he is mostly focusing on the restaurant.

Garcia is part of a growing group of restaurateurs throughout El Paso whose culinary dreams began much the same way: experimentation with menus on food trucks with a long-term goal of opening their own brick and mortar restaurants.

Chase the Taste made the move from food truck to a restaurant in Northeast El Paso. Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. Mark Lambie / El Paso Times

To name a few: there's Desert Oak Barbecue, Tacoholics and Steve-O's on the East Side. Kaedema near UTEP, Orange Cow Burger on the West Side, Porkies BBQ in Downtown El Paso and Jonbalaya and Chase the Taste on the Northeast.

Many of these business owners will tell you that starting with a food truck was the smart way.

"It's a really good way to start and get your food out there. You can get the word out by driving around the city and you can see what the demographics are and what food sells more," said Garcia, who has 15 years experience in the restaurant business working in both national chains such as Applebee's and Carl's Jr. to locally owned restaurants such as Ardovino's Desert Crossing in Sunland Park, N.M. and Crave.

Richard Funk, owner of Desert Oak Barbecue on North Zaragoza, said a food truck was the perfect vehicle to see if El Paso would accept his type of barbecue. A big follower of Austin pitmaster Aaron Franklin, Funk swears by oak wood for smoking meats. And he believes in just salt and pepper and elbow grease. Barbecue sauce, he says, is available but not necessary.

"It was a lower risk to get started that way. We could move our vehicle when we wanted to and we could test the waters. And we are glad that we went that route," said Funk, who credits his wife Suzanne for teaching him how to use a charcoal grill when they were dating.

Funk soon found that people flocked to his food truck, outside the Cowtown Boots, on the East Side, indulging in sandwiches stuffed with one-quarter pound of brisket or barbecue ribs that never seemed to last long.

He even had a sign that read "11 a.m. Friday and Saturday until it's gone." Usually, within an hour or two.

At that time, he was smoking about five or six briskets a day, which was enough for about 200 sandwiches.

In the summer of 2017, Funk opened his barbecue restaurant on the East Side and added a few more menu items.

MORE: Smash & Roll food truck owners expand to kitchen at Born TX Raised in East El Paso

It's been a test of trial and error for Funk to figure out how much to cook in the smoker to keep up with the clientele at the restaurant. These days, he does well if he can stay open until 3 p.m., which is still short of closing time at 8 p.m.

Funk said it's been fun and scary to have his own brick and mortar restaurant.

"It's kind of scary to take on some debt and all these extra bills. With the food truck, if it doesn't make it, you can just lock it up and take it home," he said. He rents the location.

Garcia said he opened the restaurant when a good location and the funds were available at the same time. The restaurant is contemporary with rectangular seating area and a colorful mural on an accent wall that pays tribute to Betsy rolling through the city.

"I would like to work on the (food truck) more but right now I want to focus on the restaurant to provide the best food and the best experience we can provide," he said.

Garcia knew what kind of food he wanted to do from the start, something that was familiar to most palates.

"My concept was to do modern American food, comfort food but with our own twist," he said.

His menu consists of a mix of burgers, sandwiches, salads and fish tacos.

"It's food that is familiar but with some different flavors. We use pico de gallo, chipotle, chile colorado, just a lot of different chiles, even some Hatch green chile," he said. "I really enjoy the spice."

His signature dish is for those with a hearty appetite — the Borracho Burger, which is piled with Hatch green chile, cheddar, bacon, chorizo, grilled onions, an over-easy egg, tomatoes and chipotle sauce.

Garcia, 34, said transitioning from a food truck to a restaurant has not been challenging. In fact, he says it's easier to run an establishment.

"Everything is stationary and is here. The vendors bring the food to you and you're not running around on a kitchen on wheels. It can be hard sometimes when people brake too hard and don't realize a 13,000 pound truck can't stop that fast," he said.

On top of all that, the climate is always pleasant for customers.

"It's a controlled environment and you don't have to deal with the elements, like wind or rain or that it's too cold," he said.

María Cortés González may be reached at 546-6150; mcortes@elpasotimes.com; @EPTMaria on Twitter.

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