Edgar Nunez of Sud777 and Barra Vieja on Food Trucks in Mexico City

With Chef Edgar Nunez at Mesamerica 2014
With Chef Edgar Nunez at Mesamerica 2014

This year the annual Mesamerica conference in Mexico City focused on street food in urban areas. Contradictory to what is happening in the US where food trucks are morphing into brick and mortar restaurants like Ludo Lefebvre with his Trois Mec and Petit Trois, Roy Choi of the Kogi food truck empire with his eight restaurants and counting, plus a step into the hotel business and his Loco’l burger collaboration with Daniel Patterson of Coi in San Fransisco. It was an interesting event as in Mexico there is abundance of street food options around every corner so for this move to loncheras or food trucks seems a little paradoxical.

Edgar Nunez of the Sud777 and Barra Vieja both highly successful with his restaurant Sud777 climbing to #24 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants of Latin America few weeks ago was the first chef to make this move in Mexico City which is gradually becoming a foodie destination for diners from South America, Spain and US. Nunez is known for thinking outside the box and though I am not a big fan of food trucks because I think they are usually serving “fast food” even faster and leaving a larger carbon footprint behind I wanted to know why he was taking this route. All the food trucks in Mexico City by the way are licensed and also stationary, being parked in one spot unlike other cities where twitter feeds announce their arrival and location.

Edgar Nunez of the Sud777 and Barrio both highly successful with Sud777 placing #24 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants of Latin America last week was the first chef to make this move in Mexico City which is gradually becoming a foodie destination for diners from South America , Spain and US. All the food trucks in Mexico City are licensed and are stationary, being parked in one spot, unlike other cities where Twitter feeds announce their arrival and location.

On Stage at Mesamerica 2014
On Stage at Mesamerica 2014

Questions for Edgar Nunez:

You have fine dining restaurant and yet you have ventured into the food truck business. Why?
Street food in Mexico has been around forever and on every street corner. I did not start this movement and am just trying to add another dimension to it. I can say that I have brought the first professional food truck to the street.

Do you pay taxes to the city?
Yes of course we do. In fact we have 16 different counties inside of Mexico City and each county has different regulations

You always park in the same spot and your customers come to you?
I don’t believe people need to follow trucks on the street. Business here in Mexico is not easy especially something new and we are getting people used to the idea.

You pay rent on your restaurants, but are there any fees for parking in this fixed food truck location?
I pay a leasing fee of course and it was part of my business plan. We have a proper business plan which not everyone prepares before going to business here in Mexico.

I feel all of us who are cooks or chefs need to know all about business before opening restaurants. To be successful you have to know that otherwise even if you are a great cook you will not make it.

Are you helping people economically or socially by introducing them to this form of food sales?
Actually we are working with the government to make the process of permits and parking more legible and easy for everyone. I am trying to help people acquire know how to start a business so that my country and the people can grow and we can help the economy.

Is this more of a social issue for you?
We have a civil society that we want to evolve by creating business operations of this kind. We are simply trying to make this possible.

What about help with funding from the government or private sector since food trucks are not inexpensive?
Here in Mexico people who have food stalls on the street do make a substantial income so they can adopt this way of doing business on their own. A lot of money goes to a kind of mafia here to be able to do business. Those in the street food business don’t pay taxes and so we are trying to get the government to help raise money by taxing these people. So instead of going to the mafia this money can come into our economy by way of taxes. In other businesses in Mexico we pay these taxes so why not in the street food business.

Since you serve high quality and more complex food at your own food truck at a lower price point, are other restaurateurs concerned about losing some of their business to you?
There are those who don’t understand that this is a different kind if business and are not on the same page. Actually I even have food truck outside my restaurant but we are not in competition since the two environments are entirely different. If you buy a burger from the food truck you eat it on the street but if you want a better atmosphere and service you eat in the restaurant.

Was the extra source of revenue in this tough economy here a deciding factor to go into food trucks?
Yes of course but in reality there is a boom in the food and restaurant industry in Mexico right now and new restaurants are opening all the time. Due to the general economy however not many people have money to go to expensive restaurants so it’s a good time for the food truck business. Hence I went into this business so people can eat this food for $30 instead of $140 in the restaurant.

How many other chefs have followed you into the food truck operation or are you a pioneer?
Actually no other well-known chef except me, so I am a pioneer. If you Google “food truck” in Mexico you will see my name! I started the food truck a year ago and it has boosted my restaurant business too. People see what I serve at the food truck and then they are curious to try my restaurant too as my truck food blows people away and they want to see and taste it at the restaurant.

So any El Bulli tricks on your food truck menu?
Yes there are!

***

I asked Edgar if he had met Roi Choi he said he had not, otherwise he would have seen the reverse trend in our part of the world. Two weeks ago Edgar Nunez got a taste of Roi Choi and his Kogi BBQ fare at the MAD Food Symposium in Copenhagen where both the chefs were in attendance. Edgar still owes me a pair of funky blue shades and I didn’t notice him wearing any at MAD since it was windy and rainy this year and I forgot all about it.

I will remember it the next time I see him, hopefully at Sud777!

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