Entrepreneur Angelica Gonzalez first set out to launch a taco truck as a 19-year-old business school student. What she lacked in experience at the time, she more than made up for in dedication, drive and passion for her craft. Today, she runs a successful taco enterprise with four trucks and a commissary kitchen that she leases out to 13 other businesses.
Taqueria Angelica’s is back at Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center this year for their third season, serving fan favorites like tacos pastor as well as harder-to-find delicacies like cabeza (beef cheek) and lengua (beef tongue). We caught up with Angelica to learn more about her story — and what goes into operating one of the Bay Area’s oldest and most beloved taco trucks.
Tell us about your business and how you got started in the industry.
The idea for my business first came about when I was attending Cal State East Bay pursuing a degree in business. In one of my courses, we did an analysis of the cost and viability of running a food truck. We came to the conclusion that it could actually be quite successful — things like low startup costs and low overhead. I was already working full-time as a manager at a grocery store. I started doing the math, and thought, why don’t I give it a try?
I bought my first truck in 2000 — when I was 19 years old — for $12,000. I wasn’t trained in food and I didn’t really know what I was doing, but luckily my business partner at the time had culinary experience. I decided to take one semester off school to launch the truck, and it was so successful that I never went back. I learned everything I need to know along the way.
What excites you the most about participating at Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center this year?
I like the challenge of producing quality food at a very high speed. I really enjoy tweaking things in our procedures and the ways that we function while still maintaining presentation and quality. There’s a balance between being able to pump food out fast and serving something that people want to come back for.
What’s the most popular thing on your menu?
Our tacos pastor are definitely popular at Fort Mason Center. On the other hand, there are people who get really excited to see things like lengua and beef cheek as protein options on our menu. It’s not everyone’s thing, but people who love it, really love it.
What defines your long-term success?
I had a very humble upbringing, and I’ve always been driven to be successful. As a business owner, it’s hard because I feel like I always have to be involved. But success to me at this point is actually trying to step away. I can’t help but feel like my kids are getting older and time is flying by. It’s funny — people actually wonder how I can be so many places at once because I’m always poking my head around the corner at one truck location or another. I have a very hands-on personality, but thankfully I have dedicated staff who are always trying to do a great job.
My business is at a point where I don’t really need more expansion. I’m happy with where I’m at and what I’ve accomplished. I have a good balance with work and family. I even find myself overstaffing at events sometimes just so that I can hang out. I’ll be there to oversee and help when it’s busy, but I’ll also hang back and enjoy the event.
What piece of advice would you offer to someone starting out in the mobile food business?
The one thing I tell people all the time is to make sure there’s a little piece of the business that you love. You have to love something so much that you’re willing to overcome and see past the hard work of running a food truck. If your business plan is that you’re going to get launched and then step back, I think it’s going to be really hard — much harder than you think. You’ve got to have focus, be truly invested, and love what you’re creating.
Have you had an experience where your food played a role in building community?
Food trucks create an atmosphere that makes people want to come hang out — it’s more informal. I do a lot of small events in the community where we donate a percentage of our sales. It’s really nice to give back when I can. We were involved with Off the Grid’s drive to feed first responders when the fires hit Napa and Sonoma. Those guys were really appreciative.
This year, I’ve taken a particular interest in a Latina Mentoring Program at my daughter’s high school. I provide food service for some of their gatherings and support their fundraising. I’ll be providing a taco bar setup to raise funds for their current need: Jalisco dresses for their Baile Folklorico dance group. I’m the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, and I want to leave a mark on my community and help other young women — by giving them an example of someone who can work hard, beat the odds and become successful.
Look for Taqueria Angelica’s fleet at locations around the Bay Area, and at Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center every Friday night from 5 to 10 pm. To bring the Taqueria Angelica’s experience to your next private event, get in touch with us at Off the Grid Catering.