Detroit: Food Truck Rolls in with Big Plans as a Trendsetter

By Louis Aguilar | The Detroit News

El Guapo is a taco truck with a mission. The food truck scheduled to open during Monday’s lunch hour in a Greektown parking lot hopes to be the pioneer for others to operate in Detroit.

El Guapo — Spanish for “the handsome one” — has obtained a temporary, six-month city permit that Detroit officials say could become the template for licensing mobile food trucks. On-board cooking separates them from ice cream trucks or hot dog carts.

The food truck trend has become popular in other cities nationwide. The National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot in 2011” survey of chefs found that food trucks are among the hottest food serving trends.

“We really have a lot of faith in Detroit’s food culture; the city has such a rich heritage and so much is going on now — urban farms, etc. We want to add to that quality,” said Anthony Curis, 30, one of two El Guapo founders.

The other is Doug Runyon, 35, who left a supervisory job at Michael Mina’s Saltwater and Bourbon Steakhouse at Detroit’s MGM Grand Casino to open El Guapo (pronounced wah-poh). All of the food truck’s employees have extensive restaurant experience.

“The city of Detroit has been great,” Runyon said. “It’s a very exciting time.”

El Guapo may do some trial runs over this weekend, but it plans to open for business Monday in a private parking lot at Randolph and Monroe streets. Meanwhile, the city’s Planning Commission is working on a permanent legal model for food trucks.

At least three other food trucks have approached the city of Detroit to set up a mobile shop, officials said.

It’s no accident El Guapo is the test model for Detroit’s food truck movement, said Kim James, director of the city’s Building, Safety Engineering & Environmental Department. James worked with Curis and Runyon on the temporary permit.

“I have not seen any other (potential food truck operator) as prepared as these guys have been. They really did their homework,” James said. “They are insured, they are very conscientious about safety and health concerns, even security issues. They are just as invested as a brick-and-mortar business.”

Eventually, the truck will operate from morning to evening. The temporary permit allows it to operate only in the Greektown parking lot.

The operators also are seeking permission to operate in Midtown and closer to the baseball and football stadiums, Curis said.

Close to a dozen taco trucks operate in southwest Detroit’s Latino neighborhood. At least eight already have passed health inspections, officials said. Wayne County and Detroit officials say those operators may be cobbling together permits and licenses to do business, but still may be in a fuzzy legal zone.

El Guapo strives to be both authentic and loyal to local food sources.

The offerings include gluten-free tortillas. Southwest Detroit based Hacienda Mexican Foods and Fairway Meat Packing are suppliers. So are Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co. and St. Clair Shore’s Pink Elephant Cupcakes, which is creating a new vanilla cupcake with Mexican chocolate.

Many local food enthusiasts such as Dave Mancini, owner and chef at Supino Pizza in Eastern Market, are rooting for El Guapo to gain a toehold in Detroit.

“I say, ‘Bring it,'” Mancini said.

“Those guys know what they are doing, and the more good food there is in the city, that’s a benefit to all of us who care about making quality food.”