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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Taco stands line the streets of Woodland for a chance at success

Street vendors share stories about the hard work it takes to run a small business

 

By SABRINA FIGUEROA — features@theaggie.org

 

Editor’s note: Some of the sources in this article chose not to give their full names when being interviewed. For this reason, some sources below are referenced only by their first name.

 

After years of California’s beloved taco vendors playing “a game of cat-and-mouse” with officials, the state bill SB 972 was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September 2022. The bill took effect in January 2023, supporting street vendors in the process of getting the correct permits required to start a small food business.

“Street food vendors are woven into the culturally diverse and culinary fabric of California,” CA State Senator Lena Gonzalez said. “These workers, however, lack access to the permitting they need to be able to work and provide for their families. This is due to policies in the California Retail Food Code that make it difficult for them to enter local permitting systems. SB 972 will remove those barriers and at the same time uphold public health and safety standards to protect consumers.”

Just 15 minutes outside the city of Davis, an influx of taco stand owners in Woodland have set out on the side of busy streets with bright lights and blue tarps, wanting to share a taste of Mexico with locals.

Located on 300 West St., Tacos La Carreta: El Guero is one of the newest vendors in Woodland. Open every Thursday through Friday, this stand is owned and operated by Julio and his wife who are immigrants from Sinaloa, Mexico.

“We’ve been open for about a year now, since 2022,” Julio said. “It’s a family business, so my wife and my son usually help. I have another daughter that also comes to work with us sometimes.”

El Guero makes and sells an assortment of Mexican food including tacos, enchiladas, sopes and burritos. The customer is not restricted to one type of meat either, they can have asada, barbacoa, al pastor, chorizo or chicken. As a complimentary treat, sides are laid out on a table buffet-style so customers can make their tacos a bit more colorful.

For the current transitional period to wintertime, they even offer a homemade “champurrado” — a warm and thick chocolate drink from Mexico.

A special thing about this taco stand is that their soft, fluffy tortillas are artisan and made on the premises by Julio’s wife.

“My wife knows how to make great food, and that’s what gave me motivation to open a stand,” Julio said. “I’ve always wanted to open up a family business because of it.”

Julio shared some insight about the permits required to open a stand; “I needed two permits… and I have to renew them every year. One of them cost me a little over $1,000 and the other one was about $400.” Depending on the location, these street vendor permits can cost anywhere from $200 to $1,000 per year.

Near the Woodland rice mills is another family-operated taco stand called Tacos Los Martinez which is owned by Oaxacan-born Medardo Martinez.

Open the same days as El Guero, they offer a wide variety of Mexican foods in an Oaxaxan style, including quesadillas, mulitas, papas rellenas and homemade agua de horchata. Their al pastor meat is displayed on a “trompo” — a vertical rotating spit — for their customers to see the process of how they cook and cut the meat.

Tacos Los Martinez began selling in May 2021 but switched locations.

“We actually started selling in Sacramento first, not Woodland,” Martinez said. “I was going to put up two, this one and one in Sacramento, but there aren’t enough workers for both.”

It’s not rare for the owners and their families to have other jobs. Most workers have full-time jobs as well as these “side hustles” to keep them financially stable in the expensive California economy. It is also the concept of the “American Dream,” the promise of opportunity and success through hard work, that keeps street vendors motivated.

“We have been working in the tomato fields for about 20 years,” Martinez said. “I made this stand so that I could eventually have my own restaurant, leave the tomato fields and still be well-off financially. It’s a dream that I have.”

Arturo, a worker at another Oaxacan-style taco stand called La Flamita de Oaxaca Tacos, also shared that they work in grape fields around the area.

Located in front of the Walmart on East Main Street, La Flamita is one of the more popular street taco vendors in the city of Woodland. Its populated location in front of a busy Walmart parking lot and I-5 exit makes it easier to attract hungry customers coming back from shopping or driving.

They have one of the most extensive menus, offering regular tacos as well as vampiros, tortas, burritos, mulitas, carne asada, papas rellenas, quesadillas and even full-plated meals called “alambres.”

They are open the same days as El Guero and Tacos Los Martinez, but their hours differ in that La Flamita stays open longer. Many street vendors take advantage of the “late-night bites” people may be craving. For example, they set up outside of stadiums after concerts or sporting events, as well as near big freeway exits and entrances.

“We’re open until 12 or 1 a.m.,” Arturo said “It gets full when people are coming back from dances or concerts and they see us right off the I-5, so it pays off.”

A review by Luke Cheng at the Sacramento Food Review gave La Flamita an A rating.

“15 years ago I would have never come to a place like this to eat. I’m glad I got over myself and opened up my mind and taste buds to delicious new experiences!” Cheng said.

Gaining the support of the people is another important part of success for street vendors, which can be achieved by opening up your mind and trying these taco stands, much like Cheng did. Not only will you be eating delicious food, but you’ll also be helping small businesses take off.

 

Written by: Sabrina Figueroa — features@theaggie.org

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