Food Truck Tuesday: Habanero Sombrero

A few years ago, the big black food truck with mariachi music pouring from its windows would have seemed out of place in downtown Winnipeg. Today, on a warm afternoon in June, the Habanero Sombrero Taqueria fits right in.

Parked at the corner of Broadway Avenue and Donald Street, Habanero Sombrero is one of the latest players to join the growing fleet of food trucks lining the city’s sidewalks. Complete with Latin décor and a pair of longhorns protruding from the hood of the pickup truck, the mobile Mexican eatery is as close to a holiday as most Winnipeggers will get until next winter.

“If you want to feel like you’re on vacation, stop on by,” says Mark Langtry, who owns and operates Habanero Sombrero with his wife, Shannon. “We’ve got the classic Mexican food, the music, the whole deal.”

The local couple decided to open the taqueria in the spring of 2013, when they were looking for a small business idea with low overhead costs and the flexibility to travel south in the winters. Combined with their love for food and people, a food truck seemed like a natural fit. And while the recent explosion in the Winnipeg street eats scene may have deterred other entrepreneurs from joining the mix, Langtry says the growing market only solidified the couple’s decision to move forward.

“I think it actually works better when there are a bunch of trucks together,” he says. “The more trucks you have, the more people you bring in.”

Besides, Langtry says, with the ever-expanding selection of curbside cuisine, there’s a little something for everyone.

“Before, hot dogs were the only thing you could get (on the street). Now you can get food from all over the world. You’ve got your Filipino food, you’ve got your sushi, you’ve got Italian and pizza trucks.”

As for Habanero Sombrero, the traditional Mexican fare was inspired by the couple’s many trips to California, where they could find Latin food “at every corner.” In providing something new and unique for Winnipeg’s taste buds, Langtry says it was important they made their food as authentic as possible.

“No ground beef, no hard shell,” he says. “We make all our salsa and guacamole in-house. The real deal, like you’d find in Mexico or L.A.”

What the couple came up with was a simple menu highlighted by four types of tacos: slow roasted beef, pulled pork, shredded chicken and black bean. Meals, which include chips and a drink, range from $7 to $13.

Once their menu was set, the first piece of business for the couple was coming up with a name.

“I’m big on the hot sauces, so habanero had to be in it,” Langtry says. “From there, we just bounced around some ideas and Shannon came up with Habanero Sombrero. It rhymes and it’s catchy and it ties everything together, so we went with it.”

From there, the couple turned to local artist, Darren Marinuk, who designed the company’s punchy logo – a cartoon mariachi player with a sombrero atop his head and a fireball shooting from his mouth.

“Getting all that initial stuff in order was a lot of work,” says Langtry, who has always worked for himself and owned a lawn care company. “For anyone looking to start a food truck, don’t underestimate how much work it is to get going.”

Now, well into the full swing of the truck’s second season, things are just as busy.

In addition to preparing all their food on a daily basis, the couple has to be downtown before 9 a.m. to secure their coveted spot at the corner of Broadway and Donald – even though they don’t make their first sale of the day until at least two hours later.

In addition to their regular lunch hour appearances downtown – during which they serve upwards of 100 customers in an hour and a half  – they also cater to events including the Jazz Festival, the Fringe Festival and ManyFest.

“It’s been really crazy, but in a good way,” Langtry says. “It’s long, hard hours, but it’s great because it’s only from spring to fall. Then, if you do well enough, you can be off in the winter.”

Another benefit of running the food truck, Langtry says, is seeing the enjoyment on people’s faces when they take that first bite.

“I love seeing people’s reaction when they taste the food and they say how good it is,” he says. “We actually had a guy from Mexico who tried it and he said it reminded him of his hometown, which he hasn’t been back to in years.

“That was probably the best compliment we could get.”

Other Food Truck Tuesday Features:

Sis & Me

Pimp My Rice

Mikky’s 

Fired Up

Healthy Eats

— RYAN BOWMAN, MyToba.ca

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