Saturday, December 11, 2010

Another Day in the Life of a Food Truck

The roads were rough ... the higher than average number of potholes suggested that pull with the city wasn't something anyone really pursued in this area of town. The failing economy was also evident as many of the warehouses were obviously unused and tagged with graffiti. Once upon a time, the number of wandering homeless folks and street corner deals going down would have been enough to turn the VW around and head for home.

But I was on a mission!

A local non-profit wanted and received a donated beginning to what they hoped would be an income-generating enterprise for the impoverished area of Houston they serve. In their dreams, a former high school concession stand would be transformed into a taqueria or food truck and women from the neighborhood would learn good business practices and earn cash for their families. While the dream became reality in the initial gift of the trailer, the transformation process was taking a while as the non-profit's staff was consumed with their ongoing activities that reach more than 80,000 annually.

Enter me.

After discovering that I was looking for additional income while going to massage school, the director contacted me about serving as a project manager. The gig sounded interesting and I love it when handouts are put aside in lieu of hand ups. So I committed to learning what I could about city requirements, food services, and refurbishing.

Since food trucks are an emerging trend in Houston, I was able to connect to some of my network and discover one of the best and most reliable groups working on transforming old U-hauls and buses into restaurants on wheels. Hence my journey into the land of the not-so-easy-to-find.

As soon as I pulled up in front of the building my concerns about locale vanished. Yes, the street number was haphazardly spray painted on the wall of the metal warehouse. Yes, there were numerous large trucks parked on the street and in front of the only entrance I could find. But there was also a vibe. I heard the radio blaring music from Mexico. I saw three young men on top of a truck working with more enthusiasm and fervor than anyone I'd witnessed in a while. As soon as they saw me, smiles broke out, then words of welcome and offers of help. When I asked for Daniel, they ensured he was on his way.

Daniel is originally from Mexico and came to Houston by way of California. He's the better English speaker of the two brothers who run the shop. Inside the warehouse that day were as many as 9 or 10 trucks in process. The place was orderly and running with the smoothness of a fine automobile. Added to the men on top of the first truck were guys working in one area with sheet metal and men in the back dealing with plans. Efficiency and cleanliness were evident at every turn.

As I drove Daniel to the location where the trailer is currently parked, I explained the non-profit's dream and what we'd done to date. He said little except to inform or correct me about city ordinances. When we arrived at the Center ten minutes later, he quickly set to the task of assessing our situation.

A few minutes passed with him using his measuring tape and crawling under cabinets and then he emerged with a bid at least one fourth less than the first quote I received. He acknowledged that it was only his best guess and vowed to get to work as soon as possible on a pen to paper version.

I dove him back to his facility and along the way was impressed with not only his knowledge but his respect for the non-profit's plans. He knew the value of giving people an opportunity.

I want to call the truck Salud! but since it's a word used for toasts and the non-profit is a religious group, I'm doubting we'll go there. But I think it's fitting. Daniel and his brother have found and offer opportunities for financial health regularly. We want this truck to offer good Mexican (not fatty TexMex) options and we want the staff to enjoy such monetary gain as well. Even if we don't name it "to your health," in my heart I'll know that's it's true identity.


Gary said...

Would love to post your this piece on our site.

KC said...

Sure. Go right ahead! -- Karen Campbell