Taco Bus, a Mexican restaurant in Tampa Bay, is a regional icon. Its authentic Mexican street food served from a kitchen built into a stationary, non-operating bus draws customers ranging from laborers to lawyers.
Earlier this year Taco Bus owner Rene Valenzuela opened a second Taco Bus restaurant across the Bay in St. Petersburg and has plans for a third and fourth location in the Tampa and Tampa Bay markets.
But Valenzuela, who also owns two Taqueria Monterrey restaurants, has another revenue-maker in a sharply painted yellow-and-black Taco Bus food truck, which was a contestant on the national television show, The Great Food Truck Race, on the Food Network. Valenzuela spent $60,000 to upgrade an old truck and has traveled with his kitchen-on-wheels to events as far as 1,300 miles away.
Food trucks are everywhere in the restaurant industry, but Valenzuela has taken the Mexican food truck to a new level with a modernized vehicle nearly as complete as a brick and mortar kitchen.
Valenzuela spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about the benefits and challenges of a mobile food delivery system.
What are the advantages of a food truck?
You can go where the people are. You’re not stuck in a bad location. And you don’t pay rent.
What are other issues to consider?
Most people don’t understand that the overhead is much higher than a real truck. The food truck uses a special cooking gas and you have to have a driver with a commercial driver’s license. The gas you use is three to four times as expensive as the gas you use in your home.
We also had problems with the generator breaking down. Then, there’s labor. Wherever you drive, everybody is on the clock.
You have to load the truck with all the supplies and start cooking, and then when it’s done you do everything in reverse and unload everything in your truck. It’s a lot more labor than a regular restaurant.
What was your farthest trip in the food truck?
1,300 miles to the Bonnaroo concert in Tennessee. There were 120,000 people. One of the advantages is that if you do a good job, word of mouth will help you. But if you screw up, it’ll hurt you. It’s all about execution.
Most Mexican food trucks are sparser than yours. Why did you go all out?
Most of the people can’t or won’t put in the type of investment to have a more professional truck. We have aluminum diamond-plate floors. We put $60,000 into our food truck and want a return on investment.
Hear more tips from Valenzuela on operating a food truck
— Alan Snel