Keeping tacos weird in northern Colorado

John De Los Santos worked in other people’s restaurants for 18 years. During that time he earned a degree in history from Colorado State University and a master’s in business administration from Baylor University in Texas. In Fort Collins he worked in management for a chain of pizza restaurants. In Texas he did the same for an upscale steak house and for a non-profit organization.

The day came when he wanted to be his own boss. Along with his wife, Angela, he researched the possibilities in his home town of Austin, Texas. He wasn’t quite ready for the investment required to open a full-service restaurant, but in Austin, the food truck business was exploding. He’d watched the numbers grow 1,200 trucks from 25 in just a few years.

The family returned to Colorado every year to ski and be with friends from college days. They noticed that the food truck business was growing in Northern Colorado as well, but not at the furious, competitive pace that it was in Austin. When the family couldn’t find the breakfast tacos they loved in the area — they had to settle for a breakfast burrito at Sonic — they put two and two together and Austin Taco food truck was born.

“I like to be able to see what I’m eating,” Do Los Santos said. The family bought a home in Wellington after falling in love with the place during the Fourth of July parade, and moved there in 2014. His wife, Angela De Los Santos, works as a policy specialist in the education field and their children are students. Lexie, 14, attends Wellington Middle School, and Gordon, 11, attends Eyestone Elementary.

De Los Santos secured financing, had a truck specially built in Denver and opened for business parked outside Snowbank Brewery in Fort Collins in January 2015. Austin Taco still shows up there every Friday where a loyal following awaits.

De Los Santos wanted to reflect the food truck culture of his hometown, thus the name Austin Taco for his business. “Keep tacos weird,” the slogan that appears on the truck, was the brainchild of a couple of fledgling marketing people who were his friends, harking to “Keep Austin weird,” the slogan of the Austin Independent Business Alliance.

As he expected, Austin Taco has experienced a few bumps along the road, but it is growing and De Los Santos says he’s learning on the job. “Let me tell you,” he says, “18 years in the restaurant business does not translate into the work I’m doing now. Food truck customers want instant gratification — fresh, hot, high-quality food right now.”

De Los Santos said he has found his niche. He loves what he’s doing. He’s inspired by the number of new people he meets every day and the opportunity to be somewhere different every day. He’s learned that it is good to vary locations, though he has regular times each week from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Constant Contact in Loveland and from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Snowbank Brewery in Fort Collins. He especially enjoys being part of the Farmers Market in Wellington on Thursdays during the summer months. All year long Austin Taco can be found during the lunch hours, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Drohman’s, 3922 Cleveland Ave. in Wellington.

You’ll also find him at the Centerra Food Truck Round-up, and the Coloradoan and City Park food truck rallies.

“I have to watch where I park,” De Los Santos says. “I once found a good spot near the post office and was getting ready to serve when a police officer approached to remind me that I was way too close to a federal building because of the propane tanks in the truck. Oops! The officer was nice enough to allow me to stay, but suggested it should be my first and last time in that spot.”

He admits to being overeager during his first few months in business. He tried to adhere to a strict schedule and worked way too many hours. Now he’s more relaxed and has even invested in another food truck that just opened in Austin in time for the first event at the Formula One race track there. BIGS Meat Wagon specializes in barbecue cooked in a 9-foot smoker attached to the truck. De Los Santos is partnering with the owner, once a food trucker in Fort Collins.

In addition to breakfast tacos, Austin Taco’s menu includes fajitas, carnitas, carne guisada and picadillo, all family recipes. You can build your own breakfast taco choosing from eggs, bacon, sausage, cheese and grilled vegetables. Austin Taco also caters and will come to the location of your office party, wedding reception or family reunion.

Chances are good that one day soon De Los Santos will expand in Northern Colorado with a sit-down restaurant featuring his family recipes. But he won’t give up his food truck and the chance to provide the community with his weird tacos in lots of spots between Loveland and Wellington in Northern Colorado. Visit his website at keeptacosweird.com.

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