'Squeeze Lime to Activate' and More Advice From Miami's Jefe Taco Truck
So here’s how the story goes (at least according to the Jefe’s Original Fish Taco & Burgers truck’s website) in 100 words or less: "Mid-19th century, a young surfer called 'Jefe' ('boss' in Spanish) dominated the waves of Ensenada, Baja, Calif. When not surfing, Jefe helped his father run the family fishing business and his mother with her beach taqueria. People asked Jefe what made him a good surfer. He swore it was mom's fish tacos. Time passed. One year, his father's boat was lost at sea while Jefe competed in a surfing contest, and his mother passed away. Years later, he reopened his mother's taqueria. It became very popular. Jefe died in 1976, but his recipes were rediscovered by a distant relative."
Whatever you believe about that story (keeping in mind that this truck is Miami, not Baja), if you’re among the uninitiated, you need to try two things on the menu at Jefe's, one of The Daily Meal's 101 Best Food Trucks in America in 2012. One is the Ensenada-style fish taco with beer-battered crispy fish, shaved fresh green cabbage, pico de gallo, crema, and lime. The other is the Double Cheezer Miami-Style (two patties, two slices of American cheese, and extra everything (for free), which means tomato, lettuce, pickle, onion, and Jefes’ "boss sauce"). Smacks of In-N-Out? Tacos aren’t the only thing worth emulating from California.
Read More: 101 Best Food Trucks in America 2012
In this interview with Jefe founder Jack Garabedian details why he launched the truck in the first place, details the truck's two catchphrases, and his three-year expansion plans.
When did you launch your truck?
What was the inspiration for going into this business?
Lack of great Mexican tacos and good all-around burgers in Miami, and fresh french fries.
We know the story behind the origin of your truck's name, but where do the recipes come from?
The recipes go back to a town in Ensenada, Mexico. Genuine tacos for an original frame of mind.
How did you come up with your truck's design?
It is a surf theme being that Jefe was a great surfer in his day, plus the West Coast feel.
Is there a designer you'd like to give a shout-out to?
Al Rodriguez from Al-Rod Studios, a local cartoonist.
Does your truck have a vanity license plate? And if so, what does it say?
It's not a plate but a saying on the truck: "Vatos Making Tacos." We also say, "squeeze the lime to activate," when we hand customers their tacos.
What model truck do you have?
A Gruemen Olsen Workhorse.
What's your signature dish? Is it also your most popular dish?
The fish tacos Ensenada-style is our signature dish. It's also the most popular dish along with the pork carnitas taco.
What's the inspiration for your cuisine and recipes?
This is the food I grew up on in East LA. As for the recipes, they've been handed down through the years!
What's the most challenging thing about running your food truck?
Finding people who want to do a good job. I don't settle for mediocrity — my sh*t has to stand out. Also, finding a place to park and vend.
If you haven't already, would you ever go brick-and-mortar? And if you have, is there anything you feel gets lost in the transition?
We are opening a brick-and-mortar location some time I hope in February 2013. We plan to do takeout with the same food truck concept, but with a few more menu options — keeping it simple, and adding beer and wine — a place to chill with a great taco or to grab takeout...
What one piece of advice would you give someone looking to get into the food truck business?
If you ain't serious, and you don't mind working 18 hours a day, and you don't intend to have a life, then head up and don't b*tch because it's hell. Then Cheers! And at least have some f*cking restaurant experience!
Any new upcoming dishes planned that you can tell us about?
We like to stick with the traditional and original styles of food. We plan on a couple of traditional salads like a wedge and shrimp Louie, and some other tacos and a few classic sandwiches. We do a classic patty melt as a special on the truck, and people go crazy for the old-school classics.
Any new plans on the horizon you can share?
Our storefront is under construction. We'll be opening early 2013, and plan to perhaps open three more in the following three years.
Lots of things happen when running a restaurant, and that probably goes double on the road. As such, be it weird, funny, good, or bad, what's one superlative or particularly outstanding moment or story that's ever occurred with your truck be it with customers, in the kitchen, or just in general?
One time, my generator went down and we cooked the last 15 orders in the dark with no ventilation. We got a standing ovation when we came out of the truck seeming to be on fire with smoke billowing from our clothes and hair. It truly looked as if we were running out of the truck on fire. And we had to go back in because we forgot a customer's Coke!
Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor. Follow Arthur on Twitter.