By Zachary Newcott | Visalia Times-Delta
For the past two years something has been cooking underneath the shadow of the Visalia Fox Theatre. Something both traditional, and highly innovative — quesadillas of all kinds, both savory and surprisingly sweet. But what’s cooking now is something different. It’s a plan to take those quesadillas out of the shadow of the Fox, and onto the sunny streets of the Central Valley.
“My barber actually named the shop,” Miguel Reyes said. “We had the whole concept, but we didn’t have a name. So I was getting my hair cut one day and he just snapped his fingers.”
“Quesadilla Gorilla,” he said.
“I was like, what? That doesn’t even make sense,” Reyes said.
By the last snip of his haircut, the barber had completed his pitch, and Reyes was convinced. For him, it was a eureka moment, one that he wanted immediately brought to the attention of his girlfriend at the time, Mikayla.
“I told Mikayla about it and she was like, that doesn’t make sense,” he said. “I said, ‘no, no, just listen.’ ”
He spared her the hair-cut, but repeated the pitch.
A slow rolling start
In October of 2013, Quesadilla Gorilla opened its doors next to the Visalia Fox Theatre in downtown Visalia under the mission of serving up unique quesadillas with fresh ingredients that customers are simply bound to “go ape over.”
Over time much has changed. The paper signs displaying the unique name were replaced with impressive window decals prominently displaying their ape logo along Main Street, and although the quesadilla specials rotated, one stayed the same.
The name of Even Boling — the man who came up with the Quesadilla Gorilla name itself — was immortalized on the menu as the No. 1 special.
“We run specials here and there, but over time it ended up being on our set menu,” Miguel said.
Just as Boling suggested when Miguel first pitched a special sporting his autograph, the Evan Boling is made with mouthwatering cilantro lime chicken with crisp bacon and fresh jalapenos, mixed with the Quesadilla Gorilla signature white cheese blend.
One other important aspect changed, Miguel’s former girlfriend Mikayla became his wife in December 2014.
The union seemed inevitable considering that their relationship was first based on a lot of trust.
“A lot of the recipes come from my family and come from her family,” Miguel said of the Quesadilla Gorilla menu.
When they were first making plans to open the restaurant, “At the time we weren’t married yet — and so it was like, well, you know, this is a family recipe.”
“They sat me down and said, ‘You know, I’m showing you this recipe, but you can’t give it out to anybody.”
Mikayla took the family secret seriously.
“She wouldn’t just send me the recipe, it’s like I had to actually go to the coast and make it with her,” Miguel said.
Perfecting those recipes took time, hard work, and patience — as did the formation of the restaurant itself for the young couple still in their early 20s.
“It definitely has its ups and downs, being a newly married couple and on top of that owning a business, but we love it. We wouldn’t have it any other way,” Miguel said.
“It’s been nice being able to work with your best friend.”
Plans for a food truck get on the road
Through their efforts, Quesadilla Gorilla has quickly grown to become a staple of downtown Visalia, and with its success the married couple have set sights on a new effort: Creating a mobile food truck to take their quesadillas across California.
“We’ve always wanted to open a food truck,” Reyes said. “We watched the movie ‘Chef’ and it was just like, ‘okay, that’s it. We’ve gotta make this happen.’”
In that film, a frustrated and disgraced chef (Jon Favreau) leaves his position at a prestigious Los Angeles restaurant to launch his own food-truck business alongside his best friend and his son.
The film was met with critical acclaim for its touching story and portrayal of the modern food-truck culture, in which customers are not only won over by a menu, but the attitude of the dedicated cooks inside.
“People love the whole food truck scene,” he said. “You’re eating from a paper plate but it’s some of the best food you’ll ever have.”
To make their dream of having a food-truck of their own, Quesadilla Gorilla is asking for their dedicated fans to help.
Miguel Reyes mad a Quesadilla Gorilla project on the website Kickstarter, a crowd-funding platform that allows users to fund creative projects by making monetary pledges.
The goal for Quesadilla Gorilla is to reach $35,000.
“It’s probably going to cost between 25-40,000 to actually make it happen,” Reyes said of the food-truck that he plans to have custom built by a company located in Florida.
“It would be really nice, especially with the Kickstarter, to have the community back you up. People who believe in a product — who want to see you succeed,” Reyes said.
The reason the truck needs to be custom-built is based on forward thinking.
“Right now as far as building food trucks, they’re not super strict. They have their set codes they have to follow, but I think in the coming years they’re going to be a lot stricter,” he said. “We just want to do it right the first time rather than be in trouble down the road.”
If the goal of $35,000 is not met on the Kickstarter page, then all the current pledges are returned and Reyes will have to start a new funding project all over again.
Navigating through roadblocks
Raising money is certainly a hurdle in itself, but once accomplished Reyes will have to navigate through a series of very different roadblocks.
Those roadblocks are the ordinances approved by the Tulare County Board of Supervisors.
“Right now Visalia’s regulations on food trucks are pretty strict,” Reyes said.
If you were to go right now and make a quesadilla yourself, regardless of how many fillings, it could take easily take 10 minutes.
Ten minutes is exactly the amount of time mobile food vendors are allowed to park in residential areas in Tulare County, and its bad news if they’re serving coffee, because food trucks are not allowed to park at all before 7 a.m. and after 9 p.m.
In nonresidential areas, vehicles can be parked for more than an hour as long as there is an approved toilet available for employees no more than 200 feet away.
Those requirements, among others, were approved by the Tulare County Board of Supervisors in 2010. If the requirements were met, vendors could then operate. As long as they also abided with the ordinance requiring them to pay the fees.
The ordinance was approved just as the practice of following food trucks on social media sites like Twitter was on the rise — possibly hindering the possibility of mobile food venues as a business practice within the city.
Of the $495 dollars currently pledged to Quesadilla Gorilla on Kickstarter, $352 of it will have to be paid — this year and every year after — for licensing and administrative fees, and $100 for each food vehicle they operate in the city of Visalia.
The business plan?
“We’re going to Fresno,” Reyes said. “Fresno it is.”
The long road ahead
While Fresno certainly has its own share of fees and permits, it doesn’t have such a rigid time frame to conduct business.
According to the County of Fresno website, while mobile food trucks must comply with zoning laws, they are allowed to travel a route and stop at businesses, offices, manufacturing and construction sites for however long they have customers.
For Quesadilla Gorilla, that could be a very long time.
“Fresno is a lot more welcoming,” Reyes said. “There’s at least 15 food trucks in Fresno. There’s Dusty Buns, there’s Benediction. I hear they’re really good.”
Visalians will still have the opportunity to see the truck in action during various catering events, but most nights it will be parked in Fresno.
It may be sad news for those who were hoping to spare themselves a trip across town to get their taste of the “Dilla of the Day,” but it’s an opportunity for Quesadilla Gorilla to gain a new fan-base and spread their name, along with that of Evan Boling.
For Reyes, it’s the secret family recipes that will do the trick.
“Chile verde has really been popular. It’s been passed down from generation to generation, and people can taste it,” he said. “It takes a little time to make it, but it’s worth every second to do it right.”
In the same way, it will take time and many helping hands from generous community members to make the dream of this married couple come out of the towering shadows hanging above it, but for a restaurant that has already made a name for itself — and such a unique one at that — it will be worth every second.
How to hep: To contribute to the Quesadilla Gorilla food truck project visit the Kickstarter webpage at www.kickstarter.com/projects/1181468716/quesadilla-gorilla-food-truck