Carlo Chalisea, the owner of Peruvian food truck-turned-restaurant Don Lucho’s 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 if it would be best to stay open for takeout or just close completely and ride things out.
“Bills still need to be paid, and some of my employees may have trouble getting unemployment insurance for a while,” he tells Eater Seattle. Thus, Don Lucho’s remains open for pickup — but food is now served out of the business’s original truck in the restaurant’s parking lot.
“The set up we had, I felt we were being responsible. But if it weren’t for the food truck, I may have closed down.”
The quarters seemed too tight in the restaurant itself to maintain proper social distancing measures for takeout, so Chalisea commissioned the truck as a pickup window of sorts, serving items such as pollo a la lena (chicken roasted over charcoals), lomo saltado (sliced steak), and ceviche for walk-up and phone-in orders. This allows him to control the flow of the tickets better, using the commissary kitchen to cook, while also setting up painted orange lines in the lot to make sure diners maintain six feet of distance.
Don Lucho’s isn’t the only business working with a similar model. Mexican breakfast and brunch spot Sazon Kitchen in Ballard — which also started as a food truck — is serving tortas, tacos, and burritos out of the truck parked in its lot for pickup. Though they don’t technically have permanent restaurants, Cuban sandwich specialists Snout & Co and New Orleans soul food purveyor Where Ya At Matt are selling items regularly outside their commissary kitchens in Frelard, in addition to occasional appearances at Chuck’s Hop Shop in Central District and other spots, giving them a solid base of operation.
The current flow for these kitchens with food truck roots may make sense for now, but the economics could catch up eventually. “My rent at Don Lucho’s is not a food truck rent,” says Chalisea, who adds that he’s still on the hook for a long lease, having only been at the Maple Leaf location for six months. He hopes to work something out with his landlord in the short term, like so many others in Seattle.
Meanwhile, the death of Tacos El Tajin food truck owner Tomas Lopez at the age of 44 from COVID-19 last week hit home for Don Lucho’s and others. Though Chalisea didn’t know Lopez personally, the food truck community is a close-knit one and Lopez’s death was one more tragic reminder of the pandemic’s severity.
The health and welfare of employees is paramount. And if Washington’s stay-at-home order is extended, or if COVID-19 continues to take its toll on restaurants for a prolonged period this year, the idea of shifting plans around the food truck isn’t out of the question. Chalisea could rent out Don Lucho’s as a commissary kitchen to other trucks, or otherwise scale things back and focus on the mobile business again, if it’s safe to do so.
“We will adjust,” he says. “That’s what we’ve always done.”
- Don Lucho’s [Official]
- Seattle Taco Truck Fixture Tomas Lopez Has Died from COVID-19 [ESEA]