Being freaks about fresh and using food as a tool to bring people together, Tim Ulrich shares the story behind the taco bus, Taco Nation, in this Food Truck Q&A session.
Who do you serve?
We serve any and all. We love people and we think food is a powerful tool to bring people together. We feel we are hitting a great stride right now too because tacos are in right now. We love to be a part of peoples weddings, celebrations, events, outings, neighborhood parties, or anywhere people like to eat…that is the beauty of the mobile food world; we can take it anywhere the people are at. We think people are into eating food with their fingers and so even weddings are becoming more like parties and fun rather than ceremonies and proper, so younger people are bringing food trucks into places that haven’t gone to before like weddings or school reunions. People are opening up to the idea of food trucks and the reflection of simple food that tastes great.
What got you started on the food truck for Taco Nation?
11 years ago, we moved to OKC from Southern California. We were used to the great Mexican food in So Cal and couldn’t find tacos that were so used to eating on the West Coast. Add to that the fact that we didn’t have a ton of money and so we naturally just began cooking at home and as a result grew to love cooking. Our friends would come over from time to time for a meal and we would cook them tacos and they seemed to love the tacos. Then our friends would invite us to cater different meals whether birthday parties or wedding rehearsals or whatever. Then we began having parties in our backyard on Cinco De Mayo or other nights where we would want to just have a great time with people and share in our love for tacos. We sort of joking called it this “underground restaurant” because our friends would just leave us money (typically just enough money to have another party with some tacos). After some of those parties, we began to think about a food truck just to be able to “take the feast to the edge” where the people were at. Then after one of the larger parties in our house, one of my neighbors Sam said, “That was so fun; we need to get the taco truck going.” It was that day we searched on Craigslist and found what we now call the Taco Bus.
Let’s talk about the design of the food bus technically. What made you go with your bus? What was the design process like?
Originally, I just wanted your standard box truck/step van…but my friend/next door neighbor Joe Quinlin had the “Big Friendly” beer bus – so when we saw a really good deal for a bus on Craigslist, we jumped on it. This bus was on Craigslist for about 19 hours when we bought it. It was a little rough, but we could see the vision. So, for the next few months we began to just think through the kitchen layout and design. A major consideration of the kitchen design was a way to get the tortillas from the griddle to the food prep station so we were able to create a straight line from the griddle to the prep to passing out the food fast but also fresh. Another thing we wanted to do was connect people closer to the food and the people who are making the food…not just get food, but see the process, kind of like a chance to get behind the scene and see how it all works. We like it because it brings people on the bus and it becomes more like people coming into our dining room/kitchen and we can hang out for a few minutes as we make their food. The ability to come inside really only works in fall, winter, or spring. As most people may know, the temperature in a food truck/bus gets super hot during the summer, so if people come in, well bring it on…
When it came to the outside design and the look and feel of the bus (i.e. colors, logos, and concepts both interior and exterior), my friend Grant Hill at Finch Creative worked his magic and came up with what we see today. He, and his team, were really amazing at getting inside my mind and heart to create what we came up with.
What can people regularly expect from you?
How I would respond to the question, “What people can regularly expect from us?” would be simply answering with reflections of what they have told us they have come to appreciate us. They would say something like, “they can taste the love” or they would say, “everything taste so fresh,” or “these are the best tacos I have ever had.” They have come to expect an amazing taco, assembled by an amazing team of people who make it all come together…That is one of the highlights of working on the bus, is bringing our team to place and being able to create a communal feeling, a place that is fun, laid back, but also has a high quality behind it.
Another big differentiator for us is just the quality and freshness of the ingredients. Everyone says “fresh” but we’re freaks about it. We have been able to use some really great cuts of meat and have been integrating local beef, visiting with farmers/growers trying to figure out how to get local fresh food to the people of this city. In fact, I just bought some jalapenos from my neighbor who has a beautiful garden and seeing even ways to get closer to my neighbor through simple means like jalapenos. We buy local micro green from a friend of mine at Rooted Farms because I know he is growing food in some of the best soil around. Josh is a freak about quality on his end so, everything comes together and the more we can integrate fresh products, the better the taco is going to taste. So if you ever see us parked an hour before we get to an event that is because we are making fresh guacamole that will go with the chips and salsa or the veggie taco…or we are cutting up the chips that we will drop in the fryer…or we making the Pico de gallo. We think fresh makes a big difference and even making sure the food has the right texture or feel. We make all of our own sauces which I think people are coming to enjoy. People love our carrot habanero especially right now.
I know we aren’t the only ones making food this way. I can see a trend where the people of this city are coming to appreciate quality, not just quantity, and the chefs, food trucks, and other eaters are responding. With good food there is a collision between the art and science of food. Food needs to both look good and taste good and I think people have come to expect that and that is what we have come to expect of food.
What’s a typical day like?
Well, we are still steep into our learning curve. We have only been operating for about six months now, but we are either shopping for food, preparing/making our housemade sauces, or lining up the calendar with the various events. Sometimes, we are experimenting with different sauces or meats. Or like today, we are creating a new salad dressing because we really want to bring our some fresh healthy options too. If we have free time, I just love hanging with my family (wife and four kids) or having some friends over to the house, sitting on the porch and sharing some tea or having a beer together. We just love simplicity right now so anything along those threads are our typical day.
What are some of your usual spots and where can people go to learn more about your truck and where you’ll be located?
Our go-to spots these days are Tuesdays at Stonecloud Brewing Company in downtown OKC. We love that spot and taco and beer make a great combination. The folks at Stonecloud have been amazing hosts to our bus. Another spot we can be found is at the Ferris Wheel in the Wheeler District Friday nights parked next to my friends who run the Big Friendly Beer Bus. Otherwise, people will find us in various places around the city at different events.