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