You would never guess it when you’re busy devouring a classic machito at El Paso’s The 49er Kitchen, but this mobile food business based has a backstory that goes back over 6 decades. Today’s interview with Maricela Rojas, owner of The 49er Kitchen shares an story of how her family continues to pay tribute to their father’s restaurant that opened in El Paso in 1949. Now thanks to their food truck the food and tradition and continued to live on.
Learn more about The 49er Kitchen’s story below from Maricela Rojas. If you’re lucky enough to live in the El Paso area, be sure to check out their Facebook page and see where they’ll be serving Old-Fashioned Style Enchiladas next.
Tell me a bit about yourself, your business, and how long you’ve been operating?
My name is Maricela Rojas the owner of The 49er Kitchen. The 49er Kitchen offers authentic Mexican tacos (Machitos, tripitas, Asada (steak), barbacoa, potato/beef), old-fashion style enchiladas and home-made burgers . The Forty-Niner Kitchen opened in 1949 by my father and family. My father always hoped to reopen the restaurant after 1975, but his dream was never realized.
In 2008, I thought of opening a food truck to continue the Forty-Niner Kitchen because of the low overhead costs and convenient days to operate as compared to a restaurant. However, at that time food trucks were not very popular and to find a central preparation facility was very difficult. I opened the Forty-Niner Kitchen a small restaurant instead which operated for only two years, (due to overhead costs to operate a restaurant were very high, long hours) 7 days a week. At that time, a friend and his wife told me that they had bought a food trailer, but were unable to find a central preparation facility and asked me if they could prepare at the 49er Kitchen as their CPF. When they assisted events, I would go help them in the food trailer. In 2009, my friend and his wife sold me the trailer. I opened the 49er Kitchen food trailer in 2009, with my son, Chris, and his friends. They worked the trailer through their high school years. In 2016, my brother Juan joined as a second the 49er kitchen so now have two trailers.
How did you go about creating your menu?
The creation of the menu came about when my brothers and I were young. My father always cooked and I would watch him. He would grind and prepare sauce for enchiladas with an old fashion grinder and also grind the meat for the burgers. The food he prepared was from the Forty-Niner Kitchen which he said he had learned from his mother, who cooked at home when he was young. As I was grew up, I learned to cook the menu: traditional tacos, burgers, enchiladas our everyday home-made meals making it my hobby. When I opened my first food trailer I offered the tacos, enchiladas, burgers, the same way as my father prepared the fresh grounded beef, prepared enchilada sauce, and tacos.
How did you learn how to start a food truck in El Paso?
I learned how to start a food tryck when would go help my friend and his wife at their food trailer when they had events and I became familiar with the regulations for food trucks. I also went to the Health Department to ask about starting a food truck and they explained the requirements to me. After I bought the trailer and became familiar with the regulations, I made flyers with the 49er Kitchen menu and vinyl signs to put where I parked. I also ran commercials on a radio station for the 49er Kitchen.
What are some of the unique challenges of operating a food truck in El Paso?
In El Paso some of the challenges are finding a central preparation facilities, the hot weather in the summer, the city regulations. The regulations for food trucks have changed since 2008, but and its becoming familiar with the regulations that can bring success. The food truck food craze started in El Paso a few years ago, and now there are many food trucks offering a variety of foods which is great. El Paso is a great city with warm weather mostly all year, except summers which are very hot and dry. As a vendor the summer sales are mainly at night for my menu. The requirements for passing the food truck inspection are tough.
Where should entrepreneurs go to find information about the local health code and fire safety regulations?
In El Paso people can go to the health department for any questions regarding the health code for food trucks, regulations, forms,or food handlers etc. For fire safety regulations people can go to the fire department.
What do you love about being a food truck owner?
There are four things I love about being a food trailer owner. First, I can choose the days I want to open and which hours I want to work. Second, the overhead costs are lower than a restaurant. Third, I can choose to move locations at any time. Fourth, I love seeing the smile on people when they are enjoying their meals and telling me that the food is freshly prepared for them like grandmas cooking.
What advice do you have for new mobile business owners?
Starting a food trailer is very hard and stressful at first because of the long hours, preparing the menu, and finding locations to work. Be prepared to know that it takes a lot of preparation for a food truck, such shopping in the stores for supplies, preparing food, making sure transporation tires have air, water tanks have water, water pump is working etc. and any other mechanical equipment needed for effect and efficient preparation of food is ready and working. It takes trial and error when starting a food truck that can sometimes be frustrating, but when you develop your own system and strategies that work for you, then it becomes enjoyable and fun.
Thinking about staring a mobile food unit in El Paso? Here’s some recommended reading.
Mobile Food Vendor Requirements – Learn what you need to obtain a health permit to legally operate a food truck, trailer or push cart inside of El Paso. Permits must be displayed in places that are obvious to customers while vending.
Central Preparation Facility Agreement – As a mobile food vendor in El Paso, by law you will need to work with a Central Preparation Facility, commonly referred to as a CPU. In other areas of the country this would be called a commissary agreement.
The Boardwalk at Ricky’s – A popular food truck park in El Paso. The ideal place to sample mobile food from around the city in one convenient location.
Business Plan – Serious about starting a food truck? The best place to begin is by writing a well thought out business plan no matter what area you plan to operate.