TAMPA, Fla. - For a business that opened in the middle of the pandemic, the future could be pretty daunting, but the owners of a Tampa food truck took the challenge and rolled with it. This week, they celebrated a major milestone.
A tortilla dipped in broth sizzles on the flat top, piled with mozzarella, onions, cilantro, and a mountain of juicy, slow-cooked beef. Quesabirria is a key ingredient in Tacos Las Californias' recipe for success. The rest is hard work and passion.
"It's just been fun," said co-owner Chris Garcia. "It's a journey, a crazy journey."
They opened their first food truck in July of 2020 at 7007 Armenia Avenue in Tampa.
"2020 in the middle of the pandemic," said Garcia. "We didn't know if we were going to have business or not because everybody didn't want to come out."
As restaurants struggled to stay afloat, some even having to close, customers showed up at Tacos Las California looking for California burritos, quesabirria tacos, nachos and aguas frescas.
"It just blew up," said Garcia.
"We went from a small truck to a bigger truck, to now, a location," said co-owner Marlly Sanchez Garcia, who's also Chris' wife.
Wednesday, they officially went from tire and asphalt to brick and mortar at 5635 Memorial Highway.
"As soon as we signed papers for brick and mortar, it wasn't real for me yet," Garcia said. "It started hitting me in our grand opening."
The pandemic forced thousands of Florida food trucks to think outside the metal box to survive.
"We had to find new ways to make money that we'd never thought we would agree to," said Michael Blasco, Chief Eating Officer with Tampa Bay Food Trucks.
Trucks traveled away from once-busy office buildings and into neighborhoods or socially distanced gatherings.
"We started the Silver Platter program in Hillsborough County and delivered 25,000 meals to senior citizens," Blasco said.
Unfortunately, some food trucks had to take an exit for various reasons.
"I would say that throughout the pandemic, the food truck community shrunk by about 20%" Blasco said.
Though Blasco says they're doing 300% more holiday parties this December than in 2019, the industry still grapples with inflated food costs, supply chain issues, staff shortages, and higher food prices.
"The community probably needs to be ready to embrace the restaurant community and support them because the price increases have to come or they're going to go out of business," Blasco said.
That's how Tacos Las Californias made it, one order at a time.
"People in the community that were there since day one," Garcia said. "I'm basically living the dream. Like, I can't believe this is happening right now."
Their brick-and-mortar restaurant also features new items like homemade ice cream and paletas, Mexican-style popsicles with frozen fruit inside. Their food truck on Armenia Ave. remains open.