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How This Street Quesadilla Maker Found a Way to Feed Those in Need While Keeping His Business Open

[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]hat if we told you of a chef folding aromatic and ever-changing combinations of calabacitas, mushrooms, and cecina into handmade quesadillas made of heirloom, organic blue corn masa? With a seasonal rotation of fresh herbs and greens picked from his own garden?

...And for $7 from a sidewalk plancha outside of an east Hollywood apartment? 

Well, you’d believe us, because this is L.A. Taco, and this is Los Angeles.

At least that was the case until COVID-19 and LA County’s “Safer at Home” measures changed things for Heleo (last name withheld to protect identity) and Quesadillas Tepexco, the east-Hollywood favorite that Heleo and his brother Filimon have been running for a little over a year. But as Eater reported late last month, Quesadillas Tepexco is finding a way to adapt, while feeding the streets in the process.

“We were going to go out that evening of the city moratorium on street vending], but we decided we couldn’t risk the equipment, so we had to find another way that we could get some cash flow.” Heleo is an active member of running clubs in DTLA and Koreatown and is a lead gardener at a local community garden. He reached out to those communities to gauge interest in Heleo’s quesadillas on an order-by-order basis. The response was substantial, so Heleo moved his street food operation indoors and started fulfilling orders made online for a slightly reduced price.

But cooking in the time of COVID-19 held other obstacles. “In the first week, we were unable to get plastic cutlery or napkins or any of that. It was sold out everywhere. So we were just handing out quesadillas as is, on the plate, without anything to eat it with. And then in the second week, we couldn’t find cheese—we had masa (from Ricardo Ortega at Kernel of Truth Organics) but we couldn’t make quesadillas without cheese. So, we started moving to burritos.”

However, these are not your average take-out burritos. They are community burritos, working in tandem with his quesadilla sales. 

A few weeks into this new normal in L.A.’s taco scene, Quesadillas Tepexco started offering two menu items: Heleo’s classic quesadillas available via Instagram DMs and payment through Venmo. And secondly, a “Share a Meal” donation option to feed a burrito to someone nearby in need. That reduced cost in his quesadillas, along with the generosity of his loyal customers have generated more than 100 burritos for those in need.

Burrito ministry has its complications in the time of COVID-19, too. “For everyone’s safety, I go out in rubber gloves, goggles, and a mask.” It can be tricky negotiating offering someone food while also maintaining social distancing. “It’s a strange feeling. We want to be careful, but it’s hard to give someone food while also staying six feet apart. You don’t want to be suspicious of the people you’re helping. But the most important part is people getting food.”

Paying it forward has always been a part of Quesadillas Tepexco. “Some of the locals [at the stand] would say, oh, keep the change and give it to someone who doesn’t have enough.’ We kept it mainly under wraps. But now, with the way things are, we wanted to open it up for everyone to participate.”

“I think every single business has the idea of helping people in mind in the first place. Either by providing a certain quality of food, or providing a seat or however you do it. If you have that in mind, you can always find away.”

You can make a donation in any amount towards Quesadillas Tepexco’s “Share a meal” program through Venmo. If you’re local to East Hollywood, you can order quesadillas for pickup. 

Follow Quesadillas Tepexco on Instagram for all the details. They are currently open on Friday nights and Saturdays via DM preorders (even though it says "Closed" on their last post).  

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