Austin’s ever-reliable taco trucks have remained open for the most during this time, since most already operate under to-go service models. Still, local trucks have been feeling the effects of COVID-19 pandemic, through shuttering businesses temporarily, declining sales, concerns over the health and safety of its employees, and delivery commission fees.
Anthony Pratto, the owner of taco spot Discada, closed the Rosewood Avenue truck because his father has underlying health issues that made him more susceptible to the virus, thus placing him in the high-risk group prone to the disease. “We had the opportunity to stay at our own house in Bandera” — a Hill Country city in Texas — said Pratto, “and I felt he would be much more safe staying out there for the time being,” he said. They left after the city’s “stay home” order went into effect in late March.
When Discada was still open, the truck also experienced supply chain problems. Its beef and pork are supplied by Mexican meat markets, which have been facing issues completing orders because of high-demand for dwindling products and labor concerns and shortages. If the truck had remained open, it would’ve left Pratto “scrambling to get all the necessary supplies,” he explained.
Pratto took both of these factors as signs, leading him to temporarily close the truck to “focus on family and health,” he said. “We left before the cases got too bad and are riding out the “peak” here.”
Pratto hopes to reopen the truck for takeout by early May. In the meantime, the close-knit staff is still receiving biweekly wages during this furlough period. “We are fortunate enough to be able to take care of staff during this closure,” Pratto said. “They are like family and will always be treated as such.”
Family-owned East Austin truck Granny’s Tacos has seen its sales dip about 70 percent during the pandemic beginning in mid-March. “I just want to keep my doors open,” said owner Rey Hernandez.
Right now, Granny’s is operating with just two employees, down from its usual six staffers. Hernandez is hopeful that the slimmer-team, in addition to offering to-go and delivery orders, will sustain the business for now.
Hernandez is understanding of the fees charged by third-party delivery apps such as DoorDash and Uber Eats. “They charge 30 percent of my sales,” he said, which he sees as necessary because the companies have to “just to keep their doors open.” There are others who have been taking issue with what is perceived as high commission fees charged to restaurants by these third-party services, even going as far as filing a lawsuit against Grubhub and city officials ordering capped delivery app fees in Seattle and San Francisco.
Down in South Austin, two-hour weekend lines are no more at taco and barbecue truck Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ. The truck switched to a new, entirely online-only setup, as explained by Morgan Howry, who heads up the business’s social media and human resources departments. People are able to place orders through its website for pickups, which include family-style packs, meats-by-the-pound, and build-your-own breakfast taco kits.
“The toughest part has been making the decision to stay open while keeping the safety of our staff and community in mind,” Howry said. The decision isn’t “one we’ve taken lightly,” she continued.
The team felt it was important for the staff to continue to earn money to support their families, as unemployment hits record highs throughout the country. While Valentina’s sales are down about 35 percent, the truck has been able to keep its staff of 30 people employed with these modified hours and pickup service.
Taco mini-empire Veracruz All Natural closed for two weeks in mid-March so that its staff could take the time to self-quarantine. The restaurant also distributed its stocks of meat and produce to its employees during that off-time.
The Veracruz team took the opportunity to reexamine its safety and health protocols in light of the pandemic, which allowed it to reopen in mid-April. “We feel confident that we can serve all of our customers in a responsible way,” said team member Ryan Myers. Three of its locations — trucks on Menchaca and Webberville roads and the Round Rock restaurant — are currently open for pickup service, and deliveries will be added soon.
Veracruz’s Mueller truck didn’t reopen because it’s parked in a public park, which meant that conditions couldn’t be controlled by the team. (Other food trucks in the park are still open for takeout service, though.) The North Burnet restaurant isn’t going to reopen at all after the pandemic, because of a condo development.
About half of Veracruz’s 70-person staff has gone back to work. “We’re trying to give preference to the people who really need it,” Myers explained.
Elsewhere, Mellizoz Tacos is using its truck, which is usually parked on South First Street, to service different neighborhoods in the city. It’s been taking requests through social media, and the response has been effusive, especially in areas that don’t have easy access to restaurants. This way, the truck’s business can continue, and they’re giving people a different food option. “They’re very thankful that we’re there,” said owner Jessica Winters.
There have been a few hiccups that momentarily stopped Mellizoz’s operations —- rain and truck mechanical problems — but despite that, the results have been excellent. “We’ve made in a couple of hours what we made in a day” over at sibling restaurant Cruzteca Mexican Kitchen, which is currently open for to-go food and groceries.
Mellizoz and Cruzteca’s plan is to continue to take the pandemic one day at a time. When restaurants are allowed to resume dine-in service completely, “we’re going to be living new lifestyles,” she predicted. The Texas governor allowed restaurants to resume dine-in services starting on Friday, May 1, though they can only open with 25 percent of capacities. People “will still be cautious about going out to eat,” she continued.