Making the leap from food truck to brick-and-mortar

By Maritza Cruz

A few months ago, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recognized Tucson for its gastronomy — the only city in the United States to be praised for its unique cuisine.

This unique cuisine is probably nowhere more evident in the food truck industry.

Food trucks can be found throughout Tucson with cuisine from nearly every country. Some have such large followings they make the leap to brick-and-mortar.

The Tucson Food Truck Roundup Director David Aguirre said there are about 900 food trucks.

According to the Tucson Food Trucks roster, there are 69 food trucks registered on their website – 13 Mexican, 9 BBQ, 2 German, 2 Vietnamese, 1 Chinese, 1 Asian and 1 Indian food truck.

The Twisted Tandoor, a gourmet food truck that serves Indian food, was one of the area’s most popular trucks several years ago after Roop and Mukhi Singh opened it in 2012.

Susan Simon said in a review on the truck’s Facebook page, “It’s a rare thing that getting a meal from a food truck is an inspiring experience.”

Roop Singh could not comment because she was in India.

According the Arizona Daily Star, Mukhi Singh died of an apparent heart attack before they moved into their brick-and-mortar restaurant.

However, Roop Singh decided to continue her husband’s legacy.

She teamed up with JAM Culinary Concepts, a Tucson restaurant company that owns and operates six restaurants, including Vero Amore, teamed up last month with The Twisted Tandoor to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

Joshua Mussman, who owns JAM Culinary Concepts with his brother Aric Mussman and mother Suzanne Kaiser, said he first met the Singhs at an event for Vero Amore catering.

“We would do events and it just so happened that Twisted Tandoor was at one of the events and we tried their food and thought it was spectacular,” Mussman said.

After talking with the Singhs, they developed a friendship.

“Then we started doing pizza nights so we’d have them come in and do their cuisine and we’d put it on our pizzas and it was a match made in heaven,” Mussman said.

Mussman said this is their first joint venture.

Making the leap to brick-and-mortar can be a big risk for some food trucks.

Eat-a-Burger ran a food truck downtown before establishing a brick-and-mortar restaurant on that same corner but permanently closed after a few months of business.

Mussman said he isn’t worried about the same fate befalling Twisted Tandoor because “they are kind of different from most food trucks.”

“I think they were voted the No. 1 food truck for a couple years running,” Mussman said. “They’re so specialized in what they do as far as their cuisine. You know there’s some other Indian restaurants, but even their food is different from what other people are putting out right now.”

Mussman said they just signed a lease for a location on Camp Lowell Drive and Swan Road, once home to Relish Kitchen and Wine Bar. They are hoping to open in February.

Alejandro Diaz, owner of Los Mezquites on Drexel Road and Westover Avenue, grilled carne asada and green onions outside of his restaurant. The grill exhales a mass of smoke that is carried by the wind to entice hungry customers.

At the entrance, a radio played Spanish music. The women were in the kitchen preparing the breakfast buffet for the next morning.

A woman poured water onto the gravel floor to keep the dust down. Outside the kitchen window, a white board was hung on the wall with a list of buffet items.

When Diaz first opened his restaurant about five years ago, it was just a stand with a grill and four tables.

Since then, he has added two rooms for indoor dining, a kitchen and a buffet area.

Los Mezquites is a family business that Diaz opened after he immigrated to the United States 12 years ago from Hermosillo, Mexico.

He said he opened Los Mezquites for necessity. He needed a way to make money.

Diaz said they are mostly known for their carne asada.

However, they have a breakfast buffet from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday that

serves menudo, chilaquiles, birria, chorizo, pancakes, scrambled eggs and sausage.

“Food like in Mexico,” he said. “Food like what you cook at home.”

Diaz said he competes with other food trucks and stands in the area by “informing [people] through the internet, through Facebook and putting photos and invitations online.”

Diaz said he thanks God that the business has been successful and he hopes to maintain his restaurant sales and sell even more food in the future.

Mussman said food truck owners should consider their investments before transitioning to brick-and-mortar restaurants because a lot of logistics go into owning a restaurant.

“I would just tell people to be wary,” he said, “make sure you have a good product and you understand the business side of it because, you know, I tell chefs all the time just because you know how to cook doesn’t mean you should own a restaurant.”

Los Mezquites is open Thursday through Sunday from 3 to 10 p.m. at 5721 S. Westover Ave. Diaz said the busiest time of the day is Friday and Saturday evenings.