For Tony Ortiz food trucks are just like home
José Antonio (Tony) Ortiz grew up in Mexico City. He is a small man with a huge heart and a larger waistband whose remarkable culinary intellect stems from his grandfather, his father and his mother who ran a taco truck outside of his home in the Cuauhtémoc borough of the city.
“They would make their own tortillas, their own salsas and would cook their meat right there on the spit,” said Ortiz, 47, owner of Magdalena’s Food Truck. “I wasn’t really involved in the whole process, because I was more focused on becoming a professional soccer player.”
After moving to Southern California with his family at 15, Ortiz decided to pursue a career “with more promise of luxury,” which led him to sales and marketing position for a company that sold advertising space in movie theaters. His office was located next to a park in Culver City, Calif., where he often enjoyed a decent sampling of food trucks.
It was there that Ortiz rediscovered his childhood
“There is a certain ambiance with food trucks that you don’t see in sit-down places,” he said. “The guy cooking the food is also your waiter and owner and operator of the whole thing, so he has to take into account his clientele. Everything is more personal. You want to develop regular business, so everyone that comes by once, you have to treat them like you want them to come by twice. Especially if you’re at the same one or two places everyday of the week.”
After working in sales for 18 years, Ortiz called it quits, took his savings and part of his retirement and opened Magdalena’s, a food truck dedicated to the Mexico City tacos and salsas he grew up with.
“The taco is part of us,” Ortiz said on his decision to jump into the food truck foray with one of the most common and traditional plates. “It’s indicative of our language, our culture and our identity. Even though Mexico has thousands of platillos that are emblematic of our culture, the world knows us for our tortilla stuffed with delicious ingredients.”
Food trucks are a well-documented trend. Many have their own websites, describing where they will be and when. Outdoor festivals – from music festivals to sporting events – are consistently replete with multiple food trucks and neighborhood parks in and around Metro Denver often have dozens of food trucks on site one or two days a week.
“They are becoming a destination for people who like quality cuisine served in a relaxing atmosphere,” said Ortiz. “For a long time it had to be brick-and-mortar, brick-and-mortar you can’t survive without it. That’s garbage philosophy. This is how my parents did it, this is how my grandparents did it and now, we’ve arrived at this stage of patronage where people aren’t looking for quality in a restaurant’s décor, they are looking for quality in the food.”
Ortiz attributes much of the growth behind food trucks to Millennials, who aren’t looking for the best sit-down restaurant, but are rather looking for the best food.
“People think differently about the restaurant experience now,” Ortiz added. “They meet in breweries. And who serves food at breweries? We do. It’s not as chique anymore to go to the dimly lit steakhouse and shell out hundreds of dollars for three courses and drinks. These kids, they want to be out and about. They want to get their food from one place and their drinks from another.”
For Ortiz, whose business has remained steady, much like the taco stand his parents ran in Mexico City, the food truck boom has made “eating out” as it should be.
“I think that’s just perfect,” he said. “People are finally catching on to what we’ve known about for…well forever. Again, it reminds me of where I grew up. And I love it.”