Food trucks roll into the Four Corners food scene
Oak wood smoke blows out of two huge black smokers and right into the faces of a line of people on Sullivan Avenue, but they don’t mind — in fact, that’s part of why they’re there.
“The portions, the flavors, the way they smoke their meat. The quality is amazing for a food truck,” said regular customer Raiko Erias as she waited for her lunch with her family outside of InfiniteBBQ food truck. “InfiniteBBQ is the way to go.”
Started by David Pearce in the spring of 2015, InfiniteBBQ was one of the first food trucks to open in Farmington, paving the way for a small number of other local entrepreneurs to try their hand at bringing the national craze for food trucks to Farmington.
The city's chief economic planner says the small trucks are part of a booming national business trend.
“According to market research, the food truck industry generated $1 billion in revenue nationwide so far this year," Farmington’s Director of Economic Development Warren Unsicker wrote via email. "We are optimistic about the industry's continued growth for our economy and its potential to build additional entertainment and nightlife in our vibrant community."
Engineering a path to self-employment
Pearce grew up in Lockhart, Texas, a small town that the Texas House of Representatives bestowed the title of “Barbecue Capital of Texas” to in 1999. Which is to say, barbecue is a big deal there.
“In Lockhart, barbecue is a way of life,” Pearce said. “Like moonshine in Appalachia.”
But for a while, Pearce had no desire to jump into the storied tradition of Texas style barbecue, a tradition Pearce describes as focusing on cooking beef at low temperatures for long periods of time, seasoning with just salt and pepper and the smoke of oak wood used to indirectly cook the meat.
Pearce worked in the kitchen at an Olive Garden restaurant, but Olive Garden doesn’t serve barbecue. Later he moved to Farmington to take up an engineering job. In his off hours he’d experiment with making Texas barbeque and dry rub spice mixtures using cayenne and other spices until he had to clock in at work.
“I was 37, maybe 38 years old, working as an engineer in a job that I just did not like,” Pearce said, “I always wondered if I’d ever like any job I had. I really didn’t recognize that I could make money cooking.”
To get himself out of the doldrums Pearce started making and bottling his barbecue dry rub spice mix and selling it at local farmers markets and craft fairs. Pearce named them Infinite, because he thought his spice mix could go on to an infinite number of things, not just beef, and because he believed that the tradition of Texas barbecue would continue on indefinitely.
Eventually the idea came to start selling his Texas style barbecue beef brisket, but the costs of setting up a restaurant without a lot of capital seemed too daunting to overcome.
“Starting a restaurant, it’s out of reach for people these days.” Pearce said, “but a food truck doesn’t cost you a half million dollars to get started.”
Taking inspiration from a decade-long trend in cities throughout the country for mobile food kitchens, Pearce went about getting the necessary permits and equipment for one of Farmington’s first food trucks in spring of 2015.
“At first it was a struggle. Nobody in city government knew how to approach it,” said Pearce, but eventually Pearce worked with the city to open his food truck first in the Mesa Shopping Center on Butler Ave.
Silver Star finds a home
Just up the street from the InfiniteBBQ location on Sullivan Avenue is Silver Star BBQ on 20th St. — named after owner Jeremy Montoya’s love of the Dallas Cowboys football team.
Montoya said he started his barbecue food truck just two weeks or so after Pearce started his after 24 years in the restaurant business “because I decided it was time to go my own way,” he said.
After a couple of years operating near the Smith’s Food and Drug grocery store on 20th St., Montoya said he was approached by the owners of the Lauter Haus Brewing Company as they were beginning construction of the brewery, and asked if he would want to park his truck permanently in the parking lot of Lauter Haus. He said yes, and for the past five months the truck hasn’t left that parking lot.
“It’s nice to finally have a permanent spot,” Montoya said, “and it’s nice to be your own boss.”
Tacos are in the culinary mix
Gabriel Mercado has worked in the oil fields for 14 hard years, often working six days a week. For the past three and a half years Mercado has used that lone day off work to work for himself at his food truck, Tacos el Rey on West Main Street.
Tacos el Rey’s menu is a cornucopia of traditional Mexican tacos. From classic chunks of sliced and grilled skirt steak called carne asada, to tripe and gloriously fatty beef tongue and beef cheeks.
Mercado admits that the more authentic bits of meat can be a little bit of a surprise to customers used to ground beef tacos and other more Americanized versions of Mexican food, but he’s always open to coaching first time customers through the menu. They also serve more familiar cuts of meat like chicken, or al pastor, as well as breakfast burritos and quesadillas.
Mercado, who grew up in the state of Zacatecas in Mexico but has lived in Farmington for the past 40 years, is very familiar with the American style of Mexican food served by a number of local restaurants. For 28 years he worked as a cook for the now closed Kettle Restaurant making American style Mexican food.
“I always wanted to start something myself though,” Mercado said, and so he did.
Along with the truck, Mercado bought a small dining room adjacent to the truck on West Main Street where customers can sit and eat. He hopes to soon turn the back room of the building into a restaurant kitchen, and to finally make Tacos el Rey his full-time job.
“Working here is a lot easier than the oil field,” Mercado said
Mercado’s success has inspired his brother, Rafael Mercado, to start his own food truck, El Torito, further down on Main St, right underneath a looming Taco Bell sign.
After working a number of jobs in construction and in the oil fields and at a restaurant in Long Beach, California, Gabriel gave Rafael the confidence he needed to start his own food truck just seven months ago.
Rafael describes El Torito as “a totally different flavor,” than Tacos el Rey. Rafael includes some more American-Mexican style food, as well as the more traditional Mexican style tacos, like succulent fire red goat stew called birria.
“It’s a family business,” Rafael said, “my daughter works here with me, and my wife, my niece, and my nephew. My whole point is to run the food truck well, and maybe one day open a restaurant, but right now I’m focusing on the truck.”
On the outskirts of town along State Road 170, Curbe Myerson runs his taco truck, Chavo’s Street Tacos, trying to be a part of that growing industry as well.
Myerson said he started his truck with his wife in 2016 to build a business of their dreams, for themselves, and for their children. It serves a mix of traditional Mexican foods, like huarache, a fried slab of masa dough piled high with beans and meat and cheese, and more American-Mexican style offerings.
“It’s just me and my wife working here,” Myerson said, “We’re growing. A lot of my customers are oil workers, but people come from all over. Like one gentlemen drives all the way from Mancos [Colorado] to eat here. We call Chavo’s our little Four Corners.”
Myerson is currently looking for a brick and mortar storefront to take Chavo’s into, but he’s confident that if, and when, he does move into a storefront that the trust he’s built with his customers from his food truck will follow him to a more traditional restaurant setting.
“I asked my customers if they would follow us if we moved and they said ‘of course. Your food is authentic,' Myerson said, “The community takes care of us, and I want to take of the community.”
Sam Ribakoff is a visual journalist for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-333-5283 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.