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How Coronavirus Is Affecting L.A.’s Taquerias, and What You Can Do to Help

4:49 PM PDT on March 12, 2020

    Brothers Cousins Tacos. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

    Brothers Cousins Tacos. Photo by Memo Torres for L.A. TACO.

    [dropcap size=big]C[/dropcap]ronavirus is on everybody’s mind right now. We all understand that we need to be washing our hands properly and that we all need to socially distance ourselves in the name of self-preservation, but how is this pandemic affecting the taqueros and taqueras of Los Angeles? 

    In a nutshell: Latex gloves matter more than ever, say goodbye to grab-your-own salsa bars and utensil stations, catering orders are being canceled, and while some taquerias are noticing a dip in business and a spike in delivery orders, others are still operating largely unaffected.

    A plate of tacos at Asadero Chikali. Photo by Cesar Hernandez

    “We’ve been disinfecting our salsa bar frequently, but I’m talking to my wife about getting rid of our self-serve salsa bar and distributing [the] condiments ourselves,” says Jose Pérez, the co-owner, and taquero behind Asadero Chikali in East Los Angeles. Until now, he’s noticed about a 25 percent dip in business. CO

    For others, like The Goat Mafia, the change in tacos served has been much more noticeable. “We were almost dead last weekend—even with free beer,” shares its founder Juan Garcia.

    For other taquerias like Tirsa’s and Pablito’s Tacos the change in business came via last-minute cancelations of catering orders, which a lot of restaurants rely on to stay afloat. “One of our big catering accounts canceled their weekly big order that we usually send into their offices for 400 people in buffet style,” says Danny Rodriguez, Pablito’s owner. Business at his Burbank location is down about 20 percent, but his food delivery orders via apps are up 15 percent.     

    “Still in the midst of things we gotta keep grinding.”

    “Is this really the end of times? If it is, I’m surprisingly calm about it but it is really tripping me out.” Tirsa shares with her loyal followers on her restaurant’s Instagram account via stories. She reveals that yet another catering order has been canceled but is staying optimistic, announcing: “We are still here as a business and we are still doing what we got to do, and we’re going to do it until we can’t do it no more, so come on by.” 

    For some higher-profile taquerias, COVID-19’s effect on business has been less apparent. “Coronavirus has made us quieter on Mondays and Thursdays but twice as busy on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays,” Jennifer Feltham of Sonoratown tells L.A. Taco. “It has scattered the business in a new pattern.” 

    “All my restaurant friends keep asking if we’re slow. I feel the subtext is that we’re looking for comfort because things are about to get dicey.”

    Like every other taquero and taqueria interviewed for this story, Feltham says that she is implementing stricter staff protocols regarding wearing rubber gloves and using sanitation products, including asking her front-of-house staff like cashiers to also wear gloves. She is also removing the lids, forks, and knives away from public reach and available only by request. Like other taqueros, she has noticed a 20 percent increase in her orders via meal delivery apps. 

    A salsa bar at a taqueria. Photo by Cesar Hernandez

    “All my restaurant friends keep asking if we’re slow. I feel the subtext is that we’re looking for comfort because things are about to get dicey.”

    L.A. Taco has confirmed that Coronavirus has not yet affected the sales of neighborhood street taquerias, like Brothers Cousins Taqueria in West L.A., L.A. Birria, Teddy’s Red Tacos, and Mariscos Jalisco. 

    Nonetheless, they are preparing themselves of what is to come. “No hemos visto mucho cambio, pero vamos a ver este fin de semana como nos va (We haven’t seen much change but let’s see how this weekend treats us),” says Hugo Muñoz, a lead taquero at Brothers Cousins Taqueria. Raul Ortega of Mariscos Jalisco is also preparing for the worst. “No me va a extrañar, el que de alguna manera afecte nuestro negocio. (I wouldn’t be surprised if this affects our business in one way or another.)”

    COVID-19’s ripple effect down the Taco Life supply chain

    However, down the supply chain, Coronavirus is starting to affect the people who make the Taco Life possible: the purveyors. Rick Ortega, co-owner of Kernel of Truth Organics tortilleria, discloses to L.A. Taco that all of his pop-up taquerias that depend on his fresh corn tortillas for service have canceled their orders. 

    Order in via online food delivery apps. You would be surprised how many of your favorite brick and mortar taquerias are conveniently available through the many of them.

    “It’s hard to say, but our pop-up clients make up for about 15 percent of our business,” Ortega shares. He also reveals how the postponements of larger events like Coachella is also adversely affecting his business since his accounts include vendors who usually sell thousands of tacos on his tortillas over those weekends. “We lost there.” 

    The nixtamal process at Kernel of Truth Organics. Photo by Javier Cabral
    The nixtamal process at Kernel of Truth Organics

    “Still in the midst of things we gotta keep grinding,” says Cindy Rico, Ortega’s partner, and Sales Manager.   

    What can we do to help our taqueros out? 

    Order in via online food delivery apps. You would be surprised how many of your favorite brick and mortar taquerias are conveniently available through the many of them.

    Taqueros in the street are aware of the situation and are implementing every measure they can to prevent any spreading of COVID-19 or any other disease and illness. As aforementioned, including the stricter use of latex gloves and removal of time-honored taqueria traditions like salsa bars. 

    Not to mention that street taquerias are not in an enclosed space, which is what you want to avoid to lessen your risks of contracting Coronavirus. 

    Lastly, larger sit-down Mexican restaurants are also subject to feel the squeeze of fewer diners willing to go out. A way to support your favorite spot but also take care of yourself is to purchase gift certificates for them to redeem later. This ensures there is still cash flow, which is vital for many restaurants to stay in the green. 

    Memo Torres contributed to this report. 

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