Nate on closing his Taco Truck Stop

Sadly, soon there will be a dearth of tacos in Jackson Ward, as Nate’s Taco Truck Stop will close this Friday. We spoke with Nate about the reasons for closing his restaurant and what he plans to do in the future.

“I can’t count how many times I’ve teared up in the last two weeks,” said founder and owner of Nate’s Taco Truck Stop, Nate Gutierrez, in a telephone interview last night. “It really hurt bad.” The Jackson Ward restaurant will close this Friday.

The announcement came through the taco truck’s Facebook page late Monday afternoon. Nate’s Taco Truck Stop opened at the 2nd Street location in late 2010 after several years of successful taco truck operation.

Nate said it’s common knowledge in the food industry that it “takes a couple years to actually succeed.” Both a husband and a father—he and his wife have a newborn and a toddler—Nate said that he does not have the time to wait for steady profits. “I can’t wait for the two year mark.”

Monday’s announcement took many by surprise. “Most people ask, why, why?” said Nate. “I need to think about myself and my family before my passion.” He said that money is at the heart of the matter.

Tacos are not a gourmet food that warrants high prices. “You can’t sell tacos for more than $3,” he said. As a result, Nate’s business model relies on a high volume of customers to generate revenue, and while Nate acknowledged an emphatic appreciation for his patrons (“I love all my customers”), there aren’t enough to make money for him to support his family. “I can’t stick it out.” So, on Friday, Nate’s Taco Truck Stop will no longer exist.

Making tacos, professionally, for nearly nine years, Nate’s popularity came from him slinging freshly made tacos throughout the city in his food cart. His genteel demeanor and devotion to quality made him, and his tacos, a highly-regarded staple of Richmond–mostly driven by word-of-mouth advertising. He was also featured earlier this year in the New York Times for his chicken skin tacos.

Although Nate admitted to tearing up during the phone interview while talking about closing his restaurant, he remains proud of what’s he accomplished. “I’ve done the best job that I can do.” Yet serving in nearly every capacity needed by his business, from kitchen manager to dishwasher to accountant and business owner, proved to be laborious. The amount of time it took to run his business, along with the minimal revenue, made it impossible to sustain his passion. “I’ve never seen so many gray hairs come out of my chin.”

While his Jackson Ward restaurant will no longer operate after this week, he says that the food cart will continue to operate “grass roots, like I used to.” Nate says that with the closing of his Truck Stop he will have to find a new commissary in which to cook and prepare the food that he sells on his Taco Truck.

He said that he will honor outstanding gift certificates for the remainder of the week and in the future at his Taco Truck. He will also fulfill his existing catering commitments. Regarding his professional future, Nate is blunt: “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” It appears that Nate will consider nearly any professional option as long as it provides him the means to support his family. That includes working for someone else.

Yesterday, after word had spread that this will be the last week for Nate’s Taco Truck Stop, Nate said that the restaurant experienced one of the busiest days in past several months. “We got super crushed.”

Ultimately, it was too little, too late.

 

 

photo courtesy of Paul Hammond

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

14 comments on Nate on closing his Taco Truck Stop

  1. I teared up quite a bit reading this. Best of luck, Nate! You’re awesome.

  2. What kind of world do we live in where shit-ass RealiTea can stay open but super-awesome Nate can’t pull in enough dough to keep his store afloat?

    I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.

  3. Anybody else sense a resemblance in this story with that of another beloved Nate having to close his downtown restaurant? Louisiana Flair seemed like it was doing well right up until it closed. In both cases, the Nates served up a totally unique product: their own spin on the regional cuisine of their own personal roots. And Richmond respected their efforts and ate it up. Was the downtown location not providing steady business? Employees taking more than they’re giving? There’s gotta be a formula for financial success when you’ve got something that so many people clearly want.

  4. Well, with Louisiana Flair, Nate was able to pinpoint the problems with the business coinciding with one or two large businesses in his immediate zone shutting down. I think his closing was more strategic…he was talking right away about finding a new location, although I don’t know where that stands now. But it most definitely is location, location, location…foot traffic + PARKING (like it or not) is what you need to sustain customer throughput.

  5. Holly on said:

    We will miss you!

  6. Patrick Critzer on said:

    Nate has always served great food at fair prices. His truck stop will be missed, but you guys should make sure to blow up the cart down at VCU!!!
    Best of luck Nate, you are awesome!

  7. Fact is most restaurants fail. The reasons are as individual as the restaurant and the owner. Neither Nate had any parking to support them. Depending on foot traffic is a dicey proposition, especially in a neighborhood that hasn’t quite turned the corner yet. Add that to the stress of running a very demanding business would make almost anybody question whether it is worth the effort and risk. Only one person can answer that question.

    I wish Nate all the best and hope he gets to spend some time with his family.

  8. nathan on said:

    I hit the cart when I could at the farmers market but stopped twice at the physical location and it was closed both times. This was during the week and around lunch time. That killed it for me no matter how much I wanted crispy chicken skin.

  9. Well, one thing both had in common is they closed mid-afternoon, I could never make it to either one because I work in a different part of town. It’s a real shame.

  10. Lianna on said:

    Nate, your tacos will be missed! I’m so glad to hear the cart will be around, it has gotten me though a lot of rushed days without real time for meals.
    Best of luck!

  11. upsidedown taco face…

  12. My husband and I made our last trip to the Taco Truck Stop today. We ate way too much and I miss it already. I work on Tredegar Street and I would drive up to Nate’s a couple times a month when I didn’t pack my lunch. The food was always great, but it’s also a treat to interact with Nate’s peaceful vibe.

    The taco shop was slammed today, and Nate was still smiling at everyone and helping out his staff up front in between all the prep cooking he was doing in the back. It must be a difficult last few days for his employees too, dealing with busy days when their workplace is closing, and maybe a little bit of feeling that if these customers had shown up over the past few months, the shop wouldn’t be closing. Best wishes to all, and thanks to Nate for a delightful lunch treat. I’ll be in line at the truck whenever I can make it up to VCU.

  13. I think Nate just needs a business plan and maybe a general manager to make his restaurant work together with the cart. It’s gotta be hard to play the creative role, the spokes person, the supervisor, and the strategic planner all at once. This, coming from another father of two.

  14. chris on said:

    Nate, I’m sorry brother. I used to eat your tacos every week outside of music school. It was a really special experience. You’re one of the nicest dudes around.

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