We had the good fortune of connecting with RODOLFO BARRIENTOS and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi RODOLFO, how does your business help the community?
My food truck and street vendors like myself not only impact your community economically but also socially and culturally.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
A little over eight years ago you would have found me a very fraught individual sitting outside the Santa Monica Community college library wondering and debating whether I would be able to continue my education. I would be holding two pieces of paper, one a list of my courses for the upcoming semester and the other a list of scholarships for undocumented youths. Both lists with something in common, they required me to quit my current job in order become a full-time student. Something that was out of the question as I needed the money to pay my bills and finance my schooling. Choosing to quit, would subject me to an array of jobs where I would be faced with exploitation or even deportation. If you had told that I would be writing about how my food truck business impacts the community I wouldn’t have believed you. My food truck and street vendors like myself not only impact your community economically, but also socially and culturally.
The food truck business is over a one-billion-dollar industry. We not only contribute to the communities we serve by providing fresh, affordable and delicious food; but also by generating revenue in the form of taxes, permits, fees and fines. We create jobs and an economic eco system that employs vendors, cooks, accountants, warehouse employees, mechanics, and much more. In my case, it provided me with the job that would allow me to pay for my education. I was the first person in my family to go to college. I was raised by a single mother fleeing domestic abuse. My mom made the decision to leave everything behind, the business my parents had built, her family, and her culture to bring us to the U.S. with hopes of offering us a better future away from the violence and trauma propagated by an abusive household.
Here in the States, she found work cleaning office buildings at night and did not make much money, burdening her with the heavy financial cost of my higher education was not an option. Thus, I had to navigate a college environment without the knowledge of how to do so or the financial means to do it. The educational system at the time was lacking resources for individuals such as myself. To stay in the fight for my education, I had to settle for and hold my current job. Job which I had landed despite my lack of employment documentation, which meant I relinquished the choice of ever looking for something better. I was on the tight rope and felt like I could fall with every step I took. But my passion for learning would not allow me to conform to a stereotype. I needed to find a way, I needed to make what seemed impossible for me, possible. I was not going to let the waves of adversity carry me deep into the ocean, but instead I was resolved to let the rain of emotions within my soul turn into a hurricane that would blow away the obstacles before me.
With a bit of unexpected luck, in 2012, I was able to apply for DACA a program that would allow me to get a driver’s license and a social security. Two, 2” by 5/8” cards changed my life forever. They would become the tools that I would use to forge my path and achieve my goals.
It is here where my story begins to take shape and my biggest contributions to your community begin. In 2014 I began Gracias Senor Taqueria, a taco truck with a simple concept, share my culture with you. As the biproduct of this risky entrepreneurial venture, in 2021 I was successful in both getting my degree in Business Administration from CSULA and in taking my start-up from not even covering my operating cost to a go to destination in the Pacific Palisades. My goals took me longer than expected, but the discipline and lessons acquired have been priceless. It is this food truck enterprise that enables a gaze into the unfavorable world navigated by immigrants. Through my own character and deeds, I make a conscious effort every day to show those in my community the value and contributions of immigrants. Show by example that we have much to offer and contribute, even when we find ourselves in a crippled state of being caused by a system that does not offer us a pathway to attain citizenship.
Today, our story of perseverance and grit reaches a wider audience thanks to platforms such as this and organizations like Echoes of Hope who have honored us with the privilege of working for them in three separate occasions providing meals for foster kids. Youths, who may connect with our story and feel empowered to continue reaching for their own goals despite the challenging circumstances outside their control or a system that is unfavorable for the underprivileged.
As a business I’ve been fortunate enough to develop a strong connection with the Palisades community. A community that I share my story and background with in hopes that it can resonate with some and maybe create empathy for the immigrant community by shedding some light on the struggles we face as immigrants and demonstrate that it is not as simple as showing up to the USCIS office and request to be “here the right way”, as some tend to say.
As immigrants of color, we are faced with a system that does not offer a pathway to attain citizenship and that impacts the rest of our lives and holds us back in ways strangers to this struggle could not even imagine. It impedes us from seeing our loved ones as we cannot leave this country without losing everything build, it creates barriers for educational growth as we are excluded from help like financial aid, it prevents us from attaining good pay jobs which keeps us from upward economic mobility, it creates a state of trauma as we live in constant stress of losing our place in this country, it is a modern-day form of oppression. Through Gracias Senor Taqueria I can present to strangers the vast culture and background immigrants like myself come from and show others we are more than the jobs nobody else deems desirable, we are nurses, lawyers, and entrepreneurs, we are hard workers. We are dreamers and we are all contributing to your society.
Lastly my business also impacts your community by creating culture. Every corner of Los Angeles deserves a good taco spot. A good taco spot means so much more than just a place to eat. Your local taco truck means memories, it means friends, it means home. We strive to be that place and create fond memories and vibrancy around our taco truck. We aim to be the place which finds you standing by the sidewalk taking that first bite off one of our tacos, as it causes a change in your emotions and all memories of you standing in the same corner come rushing at you like freeways to your mind. Memories of the salsa roja filling your taste buds with flavor as it hits your tongue. Then, you remember this piece of culture is made possible by integral members of your community, immigrants.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to? Hey, I got you for a week and you lucked out cause you’re visiting the best state in the country with a guy that loves to eat and get lost in the city. So make sure you pack comfy shoes and always carry an extra set of clothes as we got lots to do and traffic to avoid.
Given that you are visiting LA and traffic is a thing to consider, we will do our best segment activities by area .
On your first day we would obviously visit my food truck located in the Pacific Palisades. But not just because I want to treat you to some delicious tacos but because there’s some cool spots on the west side that perfectly capture our sun kissed state. We will be working out an appetite by taking a nice hike up Mugu Peak Trail where we can enjoy the nice ocean breeze and just take in the sights. Now, hungry and tired we make our way back my taco truck and get some breakfast burritos to refuel and get ready for our next destination. Here is where that extra set of clothes comes in handy. We are off to The Getty Villa, my favorite museum in Los Angeles. After immersing ourselves in the museum’s art we head down to take a nice walk on the beach and meditate about our newfound culture expanding from Greek architecture to Mesopotamian art.
Day two, today we find ourselves in downtown, we start early and go to santee alleys where I warn you beforehand not to risk your sanity looking for street parking but instead splurge on the private parking. Doing this will be saving us from the headache of hunting for parking and the potential parking ticket that is almost sure to happen if we park on the streets. We buy an LA dog, which comes wrapped in bacon , with some grilled onions and grilled jalapenos on top , as we walk through the aisles of small mom and pop shopping stands selling everything from socks by the dozens to $100 three piece suits. We are tired from all the window shopping, so we head deeper into downtown to get some mint mojito coffee at Philz coffee shop. Since we are here I take advantage of the opportunity to point out my favorite buildings and their beautiful architecture like the Bradbury building and the Eastern Columbia Building. We are pretty hungry now from all the walking so we head over to grand central market where we have over a dozen food places to choose from.
Day three : I give you a break as I understand LA’s awesomeness can be overwhelming to the newly initiated.
Day Four : We go for some dim sum in Chinatown , you take in the sights and then we go hiking up Griffith park observatory.
Day Five: We start our morning with an easy but relaxing walk down silver lake reservoir. Then get some Japanese inspired hojicha coffee and a super flakey croissant from konbi. We get some rest and warn to eat light cause we are meeting up in Ktown later for dinner, we are going to have KBBQ !
Day 6: We meet up at The Pantry for their famous Steak ham breakfast . We hang out near echo park and just walk around the neighborhood taking in the sights of the colorful neighborhood in all its artistic glory. I’m keeping an eye out for the “elotero” as I want you to try this LA staple, corn on a cob but Mexican style. I spot one and ask for an elote “con todo”. The elote man opens a steaming pot filled with tender ready to eat corn. But he doesn’t just hand you the corn. He pulls out a golden colored cob with flair slathering up with a layer of mayo followed by a sprinkle of cotija cheese with style that would make salt bae jealous. He hands you the elote and just like that I share with you a glimpse into what it was like for me getting out of school on a Monday afternoon.
Day Seven: I’ve taught you plenty and you have graduated Angeleno school for tourist. I tell you to just explore the city on your own, but I do make one last suggestion. I tell you to make an effort to catch one last California sunset before you leave . You ask where and I tell you anywhere is magical, but if you can make it, take the PCH to El Matador beach and let that be your last memory of this beautiful place I call home .
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to? I have been blessed with a strong support system in the community I serve. Every individual that shares with me a smile or words of encouragement is like a battery to my soul.
But my team truly deserves a very special and heart felt thank you. Very often do we see the owners, founders or CEO’s be showered in praises and admiration. But the truth is that as the leaders of any company, brand our small business, we would not be anywhere without the support of dedicated individuals who make up the foundation of any business.
In my case I have a team of warriors who battle with me through the thirst evoking heat of the kitchen and give me the best of themselves so that we may serve a community of hungry customers of all backgrounds. Alone, we very in attitudes towards life, personality and even believes but in the kitchen, we are one team, with one goal, to highlight the dignity of the immigrant community through our food.
Facebook: gracias senor
Yelp: gracias senor!