Carlo Chalisea, the owner of Don Lucho’s Peruvian food truck restaurant in Maple Leaf, had a tough decision to make last month. As the novel coronavirus pandemic spread and Washington’s stay-at-home order was implemented, Chalisea – like other restaurant owners – wasn’t sure whether it would be best to stay open for take out or just shut things up completely to ride out.
“Bills have yet to be paid, and some of my employees may have trouble getting unemployment insurance for a while,” he told Eater Seattle. Don Lucho’s remains open for collection – but the food is now served from the company’s original truck in the restaurant’s parking lot.
“We felt that we were responsible. But if it hadn’t been for the food truck, I might have closed. “
The spaces in the restaurant itself seemed too cramped to maintain adequate take-away social distancing measures. So Chalisea hired the truck as a sort of pick-up window, serving products like Pollo a la Lena (charcoal-roasted chicken) and Lomo Saltado (sliced steak) and ceviche for walk-up and phone-in orders. That way, he can better control the flow of tickets by cooking in the commissioner’s kitchen while adding orange lines to the property to ensure patrons are within two meters.
Don Lucho isn’t the only company working on a similar model. The Mexican breakfast and brunch place Sazon Kitchen in Ballard – which also began as a food truck – serves tortas, tacos, and burritos from the truck parked in the parking lot for pickup. Though technically they don’t have permanent restaurants, Cuban sandwich specialists Snout & Co and soul food supplier from New Orleans, where Ya At Matt regularly sells items outside of their commissioner’s kitchens in Frelard, in addition to the occasional gig at the Chuck’s Hop Shop in the Central District and other places that give them a solid foundation for operations.
The flow of electricity for those kitchens with food truck roots may make sense for now, but the economy could catch up at some point. “My rental from Don Lucho isn’t renting a food truck,” says Chalisea, who adds that he is still on a long lease after only six months at the Maple Leaf site. He hopes to clear something up with his landlord in the short term, like so many others in Seattle.
The death of Tacos El Tajin Food Truck owner Tomas Lopez at the age of 44 from COVID-19 last week hit Don Lucho and others. Although Chalisea did not know Lopez personally, the food truck community is tightly knit, and Lopez’s death was another tragic reminder of the severity of the pandemic.
The health and wellbeing of employees are of the utmost importance. And if Washington’s home stay order is extended, or if COVID-19 takes its toll on restaurants for an extended period this year, the idea of postponing plans around the food truck is out of the question. Chalisea could rent Don Luchos to other trucks as a commissioner’s kitchen or otherwise cut things down and focus on the mobile business again if it’s safe to do so.
“We will adapt,” he says. “We always have.”
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