Food carts: Rolling restaurants find their fans

August 2017 Posted in Community, Food & Drink

By Melissa Wagoner

Food carts are gaining in popularity across the state including in the Willamette Valley. With low overhead and ease of mobility, cart owners can combat getting mired in an unprofitable area by picking up and moving to a new spot. Creativity also flows on menus that are varied and often change with the wipe of a white board.

El Caporal owner Leo Uribe and employee Cesar Llamas (2)El Caporal Taqueria

Leo Uribe came to the United States from Mexico when he was just 15 years old. In his native country he spent little time in the kitchen because he was told it was a woman’s work. Once in the US things changed.

“Eighty percent or more of people [immigrating from Mexico] work in the kitchen,” he said.

Uribe spent five years working in big restaurants in
Los Angeles before coming to Oregon and working in his uncle’s restaurant in Portland. There he learned how to make many of the spice blends that would eventually feature on his menu of authentic Mexican cuisine at
El Caporal.

In 2008 Uribe and his wife Albe Campos, both 32 with three children, purchased their first food truck.

“Because I want to start my own business and I don’t have enough money we started out with an old truck; (a) 1972,” Uribe explained.

Starting out in Molalla in 2008, the couple moved their truck to Silverton in 2010 and eventually upgraded to a newer model, reserving the older version for catering.

When Uribe upgraded his truck he also overhauled his menu increasing from a handful of items to over 25, the most popular of which are the tacos and burritos.

“I have many students from the high school, doctors, mechanics. We’re close to the school and the hospital,”
he said.

Screen Shot 2017-07-27 at 10.43.40 AMThe busiest time for El Caporal is the weekday lunch hour from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. when the line stretches across the parking lot. Unlike some restaurants that depend on a weekend tourist clientele, most of Uribe’s customers are regulars who leave town on Saturdays and attend church on Sunday.

Although El Caporal takes up the majority of Uribe’s time he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“This has been my life for almost 10 years,” he said. “When you do something every day … I can’t imagine doing something else. If I stopped this I don’t know what else I could do.”

Nom Nom Mobile Diner

Mario Espinoza, 38, has dreamed of opening his own food cart for years.Nom Nom Moblile Diner owners Mario Espinoza and Emily Smith (3)

“Everything was all drawn out,” he said.

A chef for over 20 years, 10 of those spent in catering, Espinoza purchased a truck previously used for tailgating at Oregon State University Games and, using skills he obtained from construction courses in high school, he crafted a top of the line professional kitchen inside.

“We’ve sold everything we own of value to buy this,” said fiancé and business partner 36 year old Emily Smith. “We wanted to build it without debt.”

Nom Nom, named after the sound the Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster makes when eating cookies, opened its window, so to speak, for the first time in 2016. Catering several events including the Harvest Festival in Sublimity and Christmas in the Garden, the couple searched for a more permanent home hoping they would find it in Silverton.

“We were almost going to rent in Salem,” Espinoza recalled. But a couple of chance meetings brought them to Silver Falls Brewery owned by Eric Druliner and Andrew Fox. Druliner and Fox were looking for a cart to serve food outside their new Silverton taproom. With that, Nom Nom found its home.

Serving a host of items on an ever-changing white board menu, the most popular dishes so far are the decadent bacon mac and cheese, Asian infused tacos and a Northwest cheesesteak sandwich.

“We make all the sauces from scratch and the veggies are fresh,” Smith said.

The couple’s favorite part of owning a food truck is working together. “I let him be the boss of me when it comes to this,” Smith laughed.

They also enjoy getting to know their customers. “I’ll get behind cooking because I like to chat,” Espinoza said.

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