Local taco vendors sell on side of road for living
March 23, 2010 at midnight
Updated March 27, 2010 at 10:28 p.m.
The smell of still sizzling carne asada escapes a slow-circulating vent on the side of a run-down, cramped trailer.
A train blares its horn, and beads of sweat roll down Miguel Ortiz's forehead as he continues to dice grilled steak meat.
"It's worse during the summer," Ortiz said in Spanish.
For two years, Ortiz and his wife, Paola, have run Taqueria el Queretano, a local taco stand on the corner of Laurent Street and Port Lavaca Highway.
Vending commercially isn't something the couple of 18 years just love to do, they say. It's something they live to do.
The Ortizes moved to the United States 10 years ago from Queretaro, Mexico.
They once sold food from a trailer farther down the highway, but after the trailer's owner increased the monthly rent, one of their regular clients bought a trailer and had them pay at their own pace, Paola Ortiz said.
Before vending on the side of roads, the two worked as cooks at a local Mexican restaurant. Then, they decided they, too, wanted to grow in the entrepreneurship world.
"The important part for me is giving to the clients and staying good with the clients," Paola Ortiz said.
Fending for themselves and their three sons - Miguel Jr., 12; Angel, 8; and Oliver, 5 - isn't easy, the couple says.
The shaky U.S. economy isn't only affecting big business, but smaller vendors, as well, Miguel Ortiz said.
"At this time, that's the way it is," he said.
Business and income vary depending on several factors. The economy, weather and even religious observations, such as Lent, all hurt the vendors financially.
"Some people come several times a day, others come once a week, but they continue coming," the husband said. "And that's good for business."
Miguel declined to say how much money they earn a year, but did say it's enough to get by.
"As long as people eat, we'll be fine," he said, adding seasoning to cuts of fresh meat.
He turns on a multi-color strobe light that he aims out a window. They're open for business.
THE LEGALITIES OF VENDING
Some people call anybody selling off the side of a road a street vendor.
However, that is not really the case in Victoria, said Scarlet Swoboda, city secretary.
"Basically a street vendor, according to our code, is a vehicle, like an ice cream truck, which requires special lighting and caution signs," Swoboda said. "We've only had one in the past couple of years."
Both street vendors and commercial outdoor sales vendors need permits.
The difference is that a street vendor travels the streets as they sell while a commercial outdoor sales vendor is at a fixed location, like the Ortiz's.
The Ortiz's have their permit and make sure to keep up with it, they said.
There are 15 permits in Victoria for commercial outdoor sales, according to license documents.
There are also 17 Itinerant vendor permits, which is for vendors who aren't from Victoria and are coming to town to sell.
The economy is coming back in Victoria and commercial outdoor sales may be a factor in helping keep the economy alive and rising, said Randy Vivian, president of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce.
"The entrepreneurship spirit is very much alive in Victoria," Vivian said. "This is another example of how people are being really ingenious and finding their niche in the economy to make a really good quality living."
Delsie Marsh waits outside the beige trailer, which is painted with the names and prices of all types of tacos.
Marsh is there for the side cup of ranchero beans.
Meanwhile, Paola Ortiz cuts vegetables to add true Mexican flavor to the beans.
Several Ziploc bags filled with water and iodized salt are tacked or hang inside the kitchen area. It helps keep the flies away, the husband said.
"They're good," said Marsh, who heard about the stand through a friend. "You couldn't even get through here on a Friday night. It's refreshing to have a place like this."
The restaurant gets a diverse clientele - people like Marsh, who only speaks English, as well as Spanish speakers - Miguel said.
The Ortizes learned to adjust.
"Our English is not great, but we understand and make it," he said.
The husband cuts more meat. He buys at least 70 pounds of meat to make it through the day.
The couple hopes to one day expand their business, but they're unsure of when that day will come. Or if it will ever come.
"That's always somebody's idea," Miguel Ortiz said.
The sky grows darker and the strobe light flashes brighter. The strobe draws more people, some who are regulars, and the customers pull up by the trailer.
The restaurant is open from about 5 p.m. to anywhere from 2 to 4 a.m.
Odd hours, but it's one of the few, if not only, places that cater to a hidden night population of avid taco hunters.
"That's what we try to do," Paola Ortiz said.