Mobile food, drink units are common in Chico, but are they otherwise different than stationary restaurants? – Chico Enterprise-Record

CHICO — Hungry customers like them because they’re easy to find, they’re fast and they’re relatively inexpensive. Owners like operating these establishments because they’re easy to move around and the rent is lower.

They’re mobile food units, of course — sometimes called “taco trucks” but they certainly don’t have any restrictions on what they serve. An informal survey of units in Chico shows that many of them serve Mexican food.

Jose Quintero, who owns Tacos Super Tonaya with his wife, Ana, have been in the same location at 1456 Mangrove Ave. since June 24, 2014. The Quinteros rent space on the north side of the building at California Check Cashing, which provides them with enough room for their truck as well as a table with four chairs.

Tacos Super Tonaya has occupied this spot at 1456 Mangrove Ave. since June 2014. The unit is shown in Chico, California, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023. (Ed Booth/Enterprise-Record)

Jose Quintero speaks mostly Spanish and requested that his son, Sergio, serve as his spokesman. Sergio Quintero said he, his two brothers and two sisters work in the unit along with their parents — making it a completely a family operation. He said his family owning a mobile food unit has its advantages.

“We don’t have to pay for electricity,” Sergio Quintero said. “If you get lucky, you can find a spot outside a store and come to terms with the owner. There’s nothing extra to pay.”

That’s in contrast to what a “brick and mortar” restaurant operator faces — ranging from insurance on the premises, utilities, maintenance … and on and on. In addition, stationary restaurants have many tables, plus plates, utensils, large refrigeration units, and much more. “Taco trucks,” as a rule, serve their food on disposable plates, with plastic utensils and paper napkins.

The downsides are considerable. Foremost is the fact the truck is the restaurant — and if the truck breaks down, it’s difficult to conduct business. The Quinteros’ unit was built in 1982 and while the family maintains it well, keeping it attractive and clean inside and out, it still needs attention as any vehicle does.

“Engine, transmission, smog check, oil change … we have to do all of these things,” Sergio Quintero said. And when the unit breaks down? “It has happened to us before,” he said.

Quintero also said weather can make things uncomfortable inside the truck.

“The summer heat can get pretty bad,” he said. “It’s not too bad during the rain, but you’re still outside when the weather is cold. Also, customers can’t be outside waiting too long. They get impatient.”

Quintero also said many customers appreciate the convenience of getting their food quickly and being on their way. However, some folks believe the service speed should be like a fast-food establishment, where food is waiting and ready to serve immediately.

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