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From Truck to Table: Peached Tortilla and Veracruz All Natural

From Truck to Table: Peached Tortilla and Veracruz All Natural

BY TIFFANY HARELIK

“Order up!” are the words you hear through the blur of a sunny Austin afternoon. A hefty set of tacos comes out in a boat of fusion perfection, and you're ready to dive into the flavor, when the thought crosses your mind: “I could do this.”

And you could. Many have. Hundreds of local food truckers have paved the way for you through the rules and regulations of taking their favorite childhood recipes and transforming them into menu items for their food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants. 

Austin's food scene changed dramatically in 2008, when a crashing economy pushed entrepreneurs to try their hand at small-scale restaurants with affordable start-up costs. Some faded away, while others grew and expanded their territories to other states. 

Eric Silverstein and the Vazquez sisters represent two very different types of entrepreneurs who successfully launched restaurant careers from humble beginnings in food trucks.


Photo by Carli Rene / Inked Fingers

Photo by Carli Rene / Inked Fingers

The Peached Tortilla

Restaurateur Eric Silverstein's favorite thing to eat when he was growing up in Tokyo, Japan, was Singaporean food: char kway teow, chicken and rice, chilli crab, sago gula melaka, and laksa. At 11 years old, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where his palate was further refined by Southern flavors. 

He now serves Modern Asian comfort food in his food truck turned restaurant The Peached Tortilla. "It's Asian food I grew up eating, modernized here and there," Silverstein says. The JapaJam burger off his food truck menu and the Southern Fun noodles at his original restaurant are some of his personal favorite items from his menu. 

"Roy Choi was probably the one who inspired me the most to start the business," Eric says. "I was watching YouTube videos of him driving the food truck around, attracting customers.  His personality is the perfect fit for street food and I gravitated toward his story. There was something so real and raw about starting a business in a food truck." 

After law school, Silverstein was drawn to Austin by the weather and a thriving economy. He opened his first food truck on Sept. 25, 2010, at Star Bar on West 6th. "My original vision was to be in a food truck for a year or a year and a half, and then make enough money to open a restaurant," Silverstein shares. "It took four years, so I was a little behind schedule."

And the challenges of running a food truck were real. "One day I was driving on MoPac and about to exit at Parmer Lane,” Silverstein recounts, “when the truck just stopped. I didn't know what was going on and then realized the gas meter was broken. We had run out of gas. I had to walk a mile in the dead of summer to go fetch gas while the entire truck blocked the exit. Awesome." 

The path to a brick-and-mortar

Facing financial challenges, Eric opened a second truck about two and a half years in. At the time, food trucks were in extremely high demand for weddings and private events. That's when he decided to focus his business efforts on catering. "I needed to scale the business and take on more events," he says. "A second truck was the only way we could do more than one event in a day and grow the business. It just made sense to sell to those clients seeking catering."  

But Silverstein’s dream was always to open a restaurant. To make the move from food truck model to brick-and-mortar, he needed a home base with his own kitchen. "I opened a restaurant partly out of ego as well. I had a goal that I set out, and I was going to achieve that goal. We needed it for staff morale and for all of us to feel like we were making strides in trying to grow a business," he says.

"You don't have to worry about all the bullshit that comes with food trucks: generators breaking down, mechanical issues, product spoiling because your refrigerator can't keep temperatures where they need to be. The food truck business is a running list of things that can go wrong. A restaurant affords you the ability to sell food at a higher price. It allows you to sell booze.  It elevates your entire business and how people perceive you.”

The Peached Tortilla opened its first permanent location on Dec. 3, 2014, and has since expanded to three restaurant locations, in addition to its fleet of food trucks:

  • Bar Peached: 1315 W. 6th St. Bar Peached

  • Inside ABIA

  • The OG location: 5520 Burnet Rd.

Eric Silverstein and Louis Cantu (former food truck manager) in front of the original food truck at 24 St. and San Gabriel, where they stopped for dinner service. Photo by Vi Nguyen

Eric Silverstein and Louis Cantu (former food truck manager) in front of the original food truck at 24 St. and San Gabriel, where they stopped for dinner service. Photo by Vi Nguyen

Silverstein’s advice for new food trucks + restaurateurs

Would you suggest people start with a food truck? 

Yes, and no.  Honestly, starting in a food truck isn't a choice for most people. They have to open that way based on capital constraints. A food truck is a tough, raw business. It's hard to make it. Once you are in it, it's tough to make it to the next level. But obviously, people are able to make the leap. 

What are 2–3 things you wish someone had told you before you opened your food truck and restaurant?  

When you own a business, you are automatically in a position of leadership. You better learn how to inspire and lead other people. You also should be willing to sacrifice a lot for your business. That's part of
the deal. 

Looking back, what could you have done to streamline things for your business growth?

Our operations were a mess very early on. I was trying to learn on the fly, so there was a ton we could have streamlined. My advice is to treat the business as a marathon and not a sprint.  Move at a deliberate pace, and make sure you have systems in place as you grow. Don't try to do everything yourself — hire people to help you. 

How does someone get started in the competitive food truck scene in Austin?  

Honestly, you just start. You get a truck outfitted and you get a permit. Simple as that. 

What do you know about working in a small kitchen that could be useful for others starting their food truck odyssey?   

Make sure your line is set up the right way; meaning, you have zero extra space so make sure all the cooking equipment you have on board is a necessity. Make sure you have a commissary you can prep out of. 

What marketing and advertising have worked best for you? 

We are very focused on Instagram at the moment. SEO driven toward our Google business listing has been important as well. We also have a PR company. 

How do you prepare for success each day? 

It's all about preparation walking into every day. I walk into every day trying to be focused and ready to attack the tasks on hand. I try not to walk into a situation that I'm unprepared for.  I'm always pushing hard too.  

What is your hiring process like? How do you create an amazing team?  

Grow from within. We put an emphasis on trying to grow the people that work for us at the lower rung of the ladder. Teach them how to grow and achieve bigger things. There are pros and cons to this strategy, but those that started at the bottom for you are more loyal than those making a lateral move on board.  

Accolades

Silverstein has earned the attention of big names such as Gail Simmons from Top Chef and Rachel Ray for his best-selling tacos. The Peached Tortilla was featured on Live! With Kelly & Michael as one of the top food trucks in America. The New York Times named The Peached Tortilla one of the five places to visit in Austin. Eric has been featured on various Food Network and Cooking Channel shows including, Taco Trip, Grill Dads, and Taste in Translation. He has appeared in Kiplinger and was named one of the “Top 30 Up and Coming Chefs” by Plate Magazine. FSR named him one of the “Top Rising Stars in Food” a few years ago. He has been featured in The Trailer Food Diaries cookbook series and served food at multiple large-scale festivals such as the Austin City Limits Festival, SXSW, and Trailer Food Tuesdays. Silverstein's cookbook/memoir The Peached Tortilla: Modern Comfort Food from Tokyo to Texas debuted in May. 


photo by Ryan Myers

photo by Ryan Myers

Veracruz All Natural

Sisters Reyna and Maritza Vazquez moved to Austin from Veracruz, Mexico, in 1999. Almost 10 years later, they opened their first food truck on Cesar Chavez. "When we first opened, it was during the winter and it snowed. At the time we only sold shaved ice and fruit. We made a snowman out in the front of the truck to attract some attention, thinking no one would show up. It was crazy to see how many people came and stopped to buy. It was definitely a sign that we were doing something right," Reyna recalls.

Though the sisters say their mother will always be their biggest inspiration in the kitchen, they also look up to Aaron Sanchez and Anna Ruiz. "Aaron put Latinos on the map and has represented us very well," says Maritza. "Anna's pastries are beautiful, and she is really representing women and dominating in the pastry world." 

Reyna, who loved eating red spaghetti and milanesa growing up, now loves their bestselling migas poblanas with bacon. It's all pipian for Maritza, who describes their food as fresh, homemade, and authentic. But the tacos are by far their most popular item.

"I think our original vision and plan was always this: To one day be able to run not just trucks but a brick-and-mortar as well. We've been able to accomplish everything we pictured and planned, and we are beyond grateful for that," Reyna says.

The sisters’ second truck was opened on 6th and Waller. "We were in a food trailer park across the street from Violet Crown and next to what was back then Cheer Up Charlies," Maritza remembers. "Money was still short to invest. We wanted to make sure we were not getting ahead of ourselves and we were making smart decisions for our business, even if it took longer to reach that goal of a brick-and-mortar."

Working from a food truck has its limits. It had always been a goal to build the food trucks into a sustainable permanent location. "The space inside the trucks is small, the clean water container you may have may not be enough, you have to empty your dirty water and take it to your commissary kitchen. Food trucks have to take their dirty water and grease to be emptied at a commissary — they are required by the city to rent a commissary kitchen to do prep work and properly remove waste — it's a lot. The weather is a killer for food trucks. A bad day can really take a toll, so with such a high demand for our product we needed more space to cook and prep. We also wanted to expand our menu a little bit more, and more space allowed us to be able to do those things.” 

The sisters opened their first permanent location in Round Rock in 2016, and the second brick-and-mortar opened in North Austin soon after in 2017. "Working inside a restaurant is so much more comfortable ... just having more space is a plus because you can handle the demand for the product. Also, customers are a lot more comfortable being able to eat inside in any type of weather."

The Vazquez sisters’ advice for new food trucks + restaurateurs

Sisters Reyna and Maritza Vazquez

Sisters Reyna and Maritza Vazquez

Would you suggest people start with a food truck? Why/Why not?

Yes, the food business is very humbling and kind in some sense. Getting a food truck is still an investment, but the risk is lower than investing in a brick-and-mortar from the start. 

What are 2–3 things you wished someone had told you before you opened your food truck and restaurant?

We wish someone would have told us how complicated filing permits and working with the city would be. Back then, food trucks were not really popular so it wasn't as organized as it is now. There's so much more information for people who are just starting out making the process a little easier. We wish we would have known how important it was to invest in land when it wasn't as expensive to buy around our original home on the east side.

Looking back, what could you have done to streamline things for your business growth?

Maybe if we would have paid for marketing and advertising in an earlier stage of our business, it would have helped promote us a little quicker. All our advertising was word of mouth, which was amazing!

How does someone get started in the competitive food truck scene in Austin?

It's so different now. Ten years ago, food trucks were not as popular. Now you need to have a solid product that's accessible and good quality and your marketing and advertising has to be even better to make sure you get your name out there. Be consistent, and don't get discouraged. It takes time and work.

What do you know about working in a small kitchen that could be useful for others starting their food truck odyssey?

Having a small kitchen first gives you the ability to be able to work anywhere. You learn about managing space and making the best of what you have. Small kitchens need small menus to make sure that your food is fresh and has a consistent quality every time you serve it.

What marketing and advertising have worked best for you?

Social media

How do you prepare for success each day?

We wake up early, for sure. Always good vibes, positive attitude — this business is like a roller coaster, and it’s never going to be perfect. You have to be patient and fix one problem at a time because it can be overwhelming at times.

Accolades

Seth Rogan, Gwyneth Paltrow, and a few other celebrities ate tacos from Veracruz this year during SXSW. In past years, Chef Aaron Sanchez, comedian Aziz Ansari, and others were patrons. Veracruz has been featured in Tacos of Texas by taco expert Mando Rayo. The sisters were very honored to have won “Food Truck of the Year” in 2018 for the Tastemakers award, as well as “Best of the Best” from the Austin American-Statesman.

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