Editor’s Note: All quotes were translated from Spanish to English.
For many freestanding restaurants, surviving during the pandemic was a struggle, but some mobile eateries have been able to thrive.
Nemesio Angeles, 37, and Magali Cruz, 37, started their business seven months before the pandemic took hold in the U.S.
Teo Tacos, a family-owned taco truck, originally opened on Aug. 1, 2019, on McCart Avenue near a local laundromat. It has moved to a new lot at 2920 Alta Mesa Boulevard.
“We always had the desire to try something different,” Cruz said. “Something that was ours and for us to not always have to work for someone else. Thanks to God we have our business.”
Cruz grew up in San Jose, a small town in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, and her husband is from a town near Taranda, also in Guanajuato.
She works at an elderly care home and Angeles works as a groundskeeper at a cemetery. But their goal is to make Teo Tacos a full-time endeavor.
“We are planning on quitting our day jobs to focus all our attention on Teo Tacos,” Angeles said.
They started serving tacos out of their driveway during the two months it took to get their food truck permit from the city.
Once they had it, they said, “It’s all or nothing.”
Despite starting their business only seven months before the pandemic took hold in the U.S., the demand for their tacos has grown stronger.
According to the HSBC Global Navigator Report for 2020, in the U.S., 28% of businesses were surviving day-to-day and 51% of businesses were adapting to a changing environment. A fortunate 21% were thriving in the new normal. Teo Tacos falls into that thriving group.
Because of the pandemic, “more than 110,000 restaurants were closed for business temporarily, or for good,” according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2021 State of the Restaurant Industry report.
Sales were $240 billion below what the association forecasted for 2020. Last year, an estimated 2.5 million jobs were lost in the eating and drinking industry.
Restaurants that survived adapted to the pandemic by adding curbside pick-up, third-party delivery services, outdoor dining, contactless and mobile payment options, and by letting go of employees, the report showed.
Teo Tacos’ food truck recipe played an enormous role in its 2020 success.
“It helped a lot that we have a food truck, so all of our business is open-air,” Angeles said. “We never had to shut down because of any mandates.”
On average, Teo Tacos made a little over $2,000 per night. Yearly, the business gained somewhere between $200,000 and $250,000 in revenue. Some 30% was spent on the business’s expenses, like paying their workers, buying the materials for the food and other expenses.
The keys to their success? Recipes and availability, Angeles said.
“We just tried to maintain our recipe and we tried to not do what the others did. Tacos are common, so you have to put your own spice to it,” Angeles said. “We created our own recipe.”
In Fort Worth, hundreds of food trucks compete to have the best tasting tacos. Within a five-mile radius of Teo Tacos’ new location, there are at least a dozen other food trucks trying to attract local taco lovers.
“We don’t see any other food truck as competition,” Angeles said. “Every person has their taste; maybe our recipe is not what they are looking for. We recommend they try other tacos in the area and find what caters to them.”
The couple suggest different food trucks to customers when they ask for something they do not serve. For example, Cruz said they recommend Tacos Chihuas, a nearby taco truck, to customers who ask for burgers or french fries.
Teo Tacos focuses on their unique recipe. The business does not get hung up on catering to all customers. The owners strive to maintain consistency in their services.
“We never closed, we stay open whether or not we are busy,” the co-owner Angeles said.
Angeles added that “if you go to work whenever you feel like it,” people will notice and not want to rely on your business.
The Teo Tacos food truck never shut down throughout the peak of the pandemic and that the government stimulus checks made their business a hotspot, Angeles said.
The owners feared that their clientele would find another place to go after they changed locations, but surprisingly, their customers followed the truck to their new location, they said.
Due in part to their social media presence and familial qualities in the community, Teo Tacos’ success surpassed community ties and bled into a relationship with Texas Christian University’s Inclusiveness and Intercultural Services office.
That office hosts a cultural cuisine event where they serve food from different cultures. This go-round, the event featured food trucks.
Jamartae Jackson, the person who oversees the department’s cultural cuisine event, had a student connection at TCU.
“The collaboration with Teo Tacos was a seed planted two years ago,” Jackson said.
One of Jackson’s Community Scholar advisees mentioned his family owned a food truck, and he promised he would try the food and get them to cater an event on campus when the opportunity arose.
“Fast forward two years and the moment became real,” Jackson said. “Teo Tacos was chosen for two reasons: They have amazing food owned by a woman entrepreneur, and they are an amazing family who is dedicated to each other.”
Long term, the couple plans to open another food truck spot in the city, quit their day jobs, and make a living from their business.
“We plan on adding more technology to our business because having to add every ticket to see how much we’ve made for a night is too time-consuming,” Angeles said. “If we grow more, we will have to open another food truck and if we grow beyond that we will need a walk-in location.”
“It’s amazing to see what we’ve done in less than two years,” Angeles said. “We’ve had great results.”
“We plan to open another food truck location,” the owners said. “Depending on how things go, we plan on opening a walk-in location at some point.”