Plenty to choose from when it comes to Dodge City food trucks
When restaurants shuttered dining rooms and adjusted hours in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with no assurance of normalcy, food trucks could still open up their socially distanced counters.
The mobile restaurants have been the unsung heroes of Dodge City's food scene, though they were not without their own struggles during the pandemic.
Dodge City food trucks, Tacos El Torito and Taqueria La Estrella/Crazy Burger both cited that prices for their ingredients, specifically meat and produce, increased significantly due to the pandemic.
“It was kind of hard at the beginning when everything started going up,” said Jesus Almaraz, owner of Tacos El Torito. “For the first few months it was a struggle, but after a while, I think we’re doing fine.”
Almaraz said that he was prepared before the pandemic came to Dodge City. He had health inspectors survey his business and staff wear masks and gloves. However, some Tacos El Torito employees left amid the pandemic.
Tacos El Torito did see a decline in business as the pandemic first began, but later, people were lining up and filling their parking day after day.
Almaraz has owned Tacos El Torito since 2010 after taking over from his brother who started the business in 2005. He attributes the current success to foresight and preparedness.
“I think that when stuff like this hit, it makes you stop a little bit and process everything slowly and make better decisions,” said Almaraz, citing the loyalty of his customers to Tacos El Torito’s continued success. “I think we’re in a good way now and on a good path.”
Going forward, Almaraz said that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused him to think more about giving back to the community, especially those who go to work in person every day. It's inspired him to open a store with prepared meals from what is essentially planned to be a building-sized expansion to his food truck.
Taqueria La Estrella/Crazy Burger, like most businesses, were caught off guard. Several employees were afraid to report for work.
“It drove everybody crazy; we had no idea what we were going up against and we were worried,” said Edgar Estrella, owner of Taqueria La Estrella/Crazy Burger. “I think we lost employees from three weeks to a month.”
Due to the skyrocketing prices of meat amid the pandemic, Estrella altered the menu and removed some items with meat while also raising the prices of a few of their menu items.
Taqueria La Estrella/Crazy Burger saw business increase with minor raise in profits as traditional restaurants began to shut down, but Estrella said that his business margins have remained mostly the same.
Estrella said altering their menu options and prices were the key to managing the food truck's dues, and he thanks customers for understanding.
Like many businesses, Taqueria La Estrella/Crazy Burger was requiring employees to wear masks until the city mask ordinance was rescinded. But recently, he lost a relative to COVID-19.
“I wasn’t really a believer of the masks, I thought, 'to each their own' and for my employees, I liked to give them whatever they believe,” said Estrella. “Now I think it’s to the point where I’m going to start requiring it for my staff and the people we work with.
"Even though the mask ordinance has lifted, I think it’s just safer if you’re around my area, I’m going to try taking care of the people that are around me.”
Because food trucks are often the sole income for their owners, owners said, shutting down for too long and losing critical business could mean going out of business.
Several businesses like Noi’s Food Truck, which opened right before the COVID-19 pandemic began to really shake the United States, were left in an even more state of insecurity.
Specializing in Laotian food, Noi’s Food Truck opened in December 2019.
“We honestly thought business was going to be really slow, but we just started popping during the pandemic,” said Cynthia “Noi” Siriphone, who owns Noi’s Food Truck along with co-owner Ivan Morales. “Our business was very successful.”
Siriphone and Morales attribute their success to their perseverance amid difficulty. As the pandemic began, the duo worried because Siriphone and Morales had both quit their other jobs to open and run Noi’s Food Truck.
Morales said Noi’s Food Truck still plans to expand their business as they enter their second year, entertaining the idea of a mobile catering business, going outside of Dodge City to surrounding communities like Pratt, Ashland or Cimarron.
“I don’t think the pandemic has been holding us back and I think that’s because we started right before the pandemic,” said Morales. “I feel like the timing of right when it struck made us really strong.
"I feel like food trucks during this pandemic have been so beneficial.”
Thai Express and Boba Tea located at 208 W. Frontview Street, opened their food truck almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic and has already seen similar success. They are open Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday through Sunday from 2 to 8 p.m.
Tacos El Torito is located at 105 N. 2nd Avenue and is open Sunday through Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. and Friday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 3:30 a.m.
Taqueria La Estrella/Crazy Burger is located at 1701 N. 14th Avenue and is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 10 p.m.
Noi’s Food Truck is located at 506 Avenue B and is open Thursday through Saturday from noon to 10 p.m.