So after our aforementioned February ride, Edgar Galindo, the son of the owner of the Mi Grullense taco trucks on International Blvd. contacted me, asking why I hadn’t chosen his trucks for the ride. I informed him that we had, in fact, during the original ride back in October. Given that he seemed to know an awful lot about the history of Oakland taco trucks, I thought I’d knock a set of five his way. (I’ve edited his answers for clarity.)
As he writes: “My name is Edgar Galindo, I run Mi Grullense Restaurant and Tequila Bar on Fruitvale Ave. and my father Enrique Galindo is the owner of the Mi Grullense business in Oakland, with two taco trucks and one restaurant.”
1) How and when did Mi Grullense start operating a truck in Oakland? What was the scene like at that time?
In the early 1980s taco trucks were big in Los Angeles, they had success in San Jose but were banned so everyone in San Jose with taco trucks was forced to close up their truck, sell or move to a different city. My father is from the town of El Grullo and had family members in the original El Grullense out of San Jose. My mother had a brother in Oakland, Tony Muñoz, who was a butcher and had his own business, he saw that Oakland had a growing Mexican community and told my parents he could try to help them by setting up a spot to park a taco truck in the same lot as his business. (Where the Hollywood Video is on MacArthur Blvd., it used to be a market.) My father’s cousin had a taco truck in San Jose that could not be operated there anymore so my father asked to rent it and operate it in Oakland. This was in 1984. At first, my father and mother would drive the taco truck from San Jose to Oakland daily, until we actually moved to Oakland in 1985. There were only, I believe, two or three other taco trucks in Oakland at the time, I believe El Taco Zamorano was the first and had only been around a few months before we came to Oakland.
2) How many trucks do you guys operate now all over the Bay Area? What’s your most popular location? How much money do you guys make (revenue and profit) per day?
We only have two taco trucks, both in Oakland. We have had a few restaurants but for one reason or another have been forced to move or sell. In the early 1990s we started our taqueria across the street from the Wendy’s on 31st Ave. and International Blvd. It took a few years but the place was a great success. Unfortunately at the height of our success the Native American Health Center canceled our lease, and turned the restaurant into offices. We also had a restaurant on 35th Ave. and Foothill Blvd. but due to slow sales we were forced to close it down. We have Mi Grullense Restaurant & Tequila Bar on Fruitvale Ave., we have owned that since 1997 and are still up and running.
3) What’s your most popular menu item? Have you ever changed the menu in any way? How have your customers changed over the years?
Our most popular menu item is still the carne asada tacos, followed close by the al pastor tacos.
The menu has changed slightly over the years, our recipe has not changed, but we have added a few new items. We did not sell burritos at first, since they’re pretty much unheard of in Mexico. But we adapted to our customers and added burritos in the early 1990s, we also added tortas and quesadillas at some point in the 90s. Just recently we added a few new choices of meat, we added tripa (cow intestine) and buche (pig stomach) both are very popular. We have also added fish ceviche to our second taco truck to accommodate many customers who kept asking for a refreshing summertime food.
Customers have changed over the years, I remember when there weren’t so many taco trucks populating Oakland. Our lines were crazy, sometimes people waited over an hour to try our tacos! We had families that came from Modesto all the way to Sacramento just to have our tacos on a weekly basis. I remember meeting people in Mexico who had heard of us and were also customers. Nowadays since there are so many taco trucks its hard to compete, but we still have our loyal customers.
4) What’s the best and worst thing about operating a truck? Why operate two right next to each other? Are they different at all?
The best thing would be of course being your own boss. Staying close to home, being able to work with family, meeting so many customers. The worst thing about owning a taco truck is that there is so much competition now, its hard to make a profit, also ex-employees taking recipes and opening up their own taco trucks, and having to rent a location to park the taco truck.
We have two taco trucks right next to each other because our number one truck was getting way too busy and some customers are on a schedule and would leave looking for another taco truck or another place to have lunch. Wo we opened up another taco truck right next to it so customers can have faster, better service. Our two taco trucks are the EXACT SAME, although many customers believe that the tacos are different, I assure you that the food is cooked in the same restaurant, the tortillas are delivered by the same company, and our meat is always delivered daily by the same company! The employees are even the same, they rotate between both trucks.
The only difference is that our number one truck did not sell burritos for a very long time due to how long they took to make and our large volume of customers, although our number one truck does sell burritos now. Also, our number two truck sells tortas and quesadillas, we also added fish ceviche and plan to expand our seafood menu. Another thing is that the hours of operation are different, our number one truck opens at 8 am and closes at 1 am during the week and 3 am on weekends. Our number two truck opens at 11 am and closes at 7 pm during the week and 12 am on weekends.
To be honest, I’ve never heard anything about those taco trucks.