Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Taco King: Giving up metal for tortillas

Pedro García was a supervisor in a Californian metallurgy business for 17 years, but he decided to forge a new direction: open his own business and change his zip code.

Five years later and 1,400 miles away from the West Coast, he says that decision “is one of the best things I have done in my life. Tulsa and its people opened their doors to me.”

Now, at age 47 “but with the energy of a 20-year-old,” García has two mobile taco stands: one in east Tulsa and another in Broken Arrow, where he also has a grocery store. “My first trailer, I had to completely change it and modify it for this type of food,” he said. “I didn’t have much of an idea about the kitchen, but what was very clear was what is needed for a business: good customer service.”

Starting was not easy, he said. “But if you want to succeed, you have to be prepared for everything, for bad moments and very bad ones,” García said. “Many people told me I would not make it. Today they are my best customers.”
Two years after opening his first stand, García acquired a second one. “A bit bigger,” he said. “But it was a mess. I paid in installments. And now I have to have security guards at night to maintain order and prevent chaos in the traffic because of the cars due to all the people who come to eat.”

Garcia’s menu remains the same as when he began, but now it is printed and translated into English. “But they are still the same tacos with homemade flavor,” he says, listing off by memory the different meats, including buche(esophagus), asada, tongue, barbecue, sausage, pastor, carnitas, head, and suadero (brisket). “Tacos are everywhere, but these have ingredients that you cannot find anywhere else. But the most important thing is consistency. My tacos taste the same at any time and on any day. If you come by or call, you know that you will eat a good product.”

During the Cinco de Mayo Festival, which was organized by a group of Hispanic businesspeople in east Tulsa, following a taco-tasting contest by a jury, García was awarded the title of “Taco King.” "My participation in that great Hispanic fest was something very, very good,” he said. “Besides, now I am not only Taco King, but we have the perfect couple – since my taco stands are called The Queen [La Reyna].”

García said that by mid-day on the second day, he had served more than 3,000 orders of salsa that go along with each plate of tacos. “At that point I stopped counting, and we had no time to keep track, but had to help keep the line moving, and, of course, be ready when the judges showed up.”

García employs 12 Hispanic cooks working at the two food stands, and they show up to work as if it were a franchise – wearing colorful T-shirts that vary depending on the day of the week. “Marisol Jiménez has been an important part of this success,” he said, referring to the person who has perfected the recipe for the asada tacos.
That taco has three times more meat than a regular one, pickled carrots – “but real ones, not out of a can; we cut them here and make a homemade marinade,” said García. It also has sautéed onions, scallions and a chile toreado (grilled jalapeño) “made at the moment, hot off the grill.” It is served with two slices of lemon and two of his original sauces, a red one that “makes one cry” and a green one that “is milder.”

That taco, says García, “is a full meal, although sometimes you want to eat one after another.”
For now, García dreams of filling Tulsa with his “Reyna” food trailers, and, why not, of again winning the royal title next year.
The Taco King’s salsa

Through his roots of his native Zacatecas, Mexico, García modified his hot sauce until he found the right formula. “It was trial and error,” he said. “My customers would tell me what they thought, until finally I succeeded. And I have two; one is very spicy, and if someone says that it does not burn, well, they’re lying.”

Photos by Juan Miret

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