Maria's Mexican Tacos truck finds new home
Three weeks ago, Maria Moreno had just learned that she was no longer welcome to take her food truck to private lots in Old Town and Downtown Auburn, ending one chapter of Maria’s Mexican Tacos. On Wednesday, her food truck business turned the page.
Thanks to Frank Calabretta, Moreno has a new lot, free of charge, in a high-traffic area where she can operate for hours in North Auburn. It is the vacant 2-acre property next to his bail bonds house.
When Calabretta learned the City Council voted to ban mobile food vendors from the city’s historic districts, he said he called Moreno right away.
“I know she spent a lot of money on the truck, so I know she’s got payments on it and I just felt kind of bad that they would not let her operate, let her make a living,” he said. “So I told her to come out here.”
On Wednesday, Moreno arrived on the lot on Atwood Road across from the Placer County government center shortly before 11 a.m., parked her truck, put up her sign near the entrance, did some last minute tidying around the vehicle and then waited for customers.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
For the first half hour, all she received was curious looks from drivers. Then three people walked over from a nearby law office. Two more came from Frank Calabretta Bail House. Then, drivers started stopping.
Kyle Gropp, transportation supervisor for Placer County, dropped in on his lunch break. Gropp never had Maria’s tacos before because it was too far away. Now he said, “I think I could hit a rock into my office,” from the new lot.
“I’m still wondering what everyone else is going to get,” Gropp said. “I took a picture and texted the menu to everybody (he was getting lunch for at his office).”
A couple days after the new private property ordinance was approved, Moreno returned to her Bowman restaurant after working in her truck – taking advantage of the shrinking window of time left for her operate Downtown. The ban is set to take effect Dec. 19.
Moreno had two voicemails from people trying to set her up with a new location for her food truck, but she couldn’t bring herself to call back. She said she felt “depressed.”
One message was from Calabretta, the other from Father Michael Carroll of her church, St. Teresa of Avila Parish, telling her to call ASAP.
“I take awhile, and then I came to the church about three days later,” Moreno said. “Father Mike said, ‘Why don’t you call me back?’ and I said, ‘Because I don’t want to bother anybody.
“And he says, go talk to Frank.”
Calabretta is a bit of a foodie himself.
As a hobby, he works in a kitchen next to his business where he does canning and has prepped food to do catering in the past, he said. Calabretta grows everything from tomatoes and hot peppers to egg plants and parsley in patches outside his office and on a portion of the lot he’s donating to Moreno.
He has eaten at Moreno’s Bowman restaurant in the past, and also at her food truck when he was Downtown for a visit to the barber.
“She’s a nice lady and she’s a hardworker,” Calabretta said. “So she deserves a break.”
The lot he’s allowing her to use had previously hosted an extravagant display of Christmas lights, until three years ago when he said people stole some decorations and he decided to discontinue it.
Other than a small building in the rear of the property, it is mostly open land, covered by dirt and featuring two driveways, one gravel and one paved.
“She can park as long as she wants, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “As long as she’s busy, stay there and sell them.”
Moreno said she plans to open her truck for lunch there Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and she hopes to add dinner hours in the future after she adds staff at her restaurant.
“I’m very happy because Frank opened his door for me,” she said. “And I feel like I’m a very lucky person.”
Since the new ordinance was approved, Moreno said she had mainly been parking her truck at car dealerships along Highway 49.
People have told her they’re “sad” about the limitations being placed on her business, she said.
“One guy came and said ‘What is the closest place you go into Downtown so I can meet you? And I said, ‘I guess Highway 49,’ and he said, ‘It’s too far for me.’ And he was kind of upset,” Moreno said. “But what can you do?”
The Council voted 4-1 on the private property ordinance, granting the wish of some Auburn restaurateurs who said keeping the door open to food trucks would only hurt the area’s small businesses that are already struggling.
Moreno said she’s not placing blame on the City.
“Well I don’t think it’s their fault, you know what I mean?” she said. “If the restaurants or the business owners, they don’t want anybody to go around there, they’re trying to protect the city – that’s fine.”
Jon Schultz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews