Brothers behind Guerneville Taco Truck keep family tradition alive through coronavirus pandemic
A legendary taco truck sits in the Safeway parking lot just west of downtown Guerneville. For nearly 30 years, the Vazquez family has prepared their Jalisco-style street tacos, quesadillas and famous California burritos filled with meat, rice, beans and French fries. Known simply as the Guerneville Taco Truck, it’s an insider secret among locals and a destination for rapt foodies who’ve read the Yelp reviews.
In recent years, a new generation has stepped in. Brothers Rick, Andre, Jorge and Sebastian Vazquez have taken the reins of not only the iconic truck, but also the River Inn Grill and, until it was destroyed in the 2019 floods, their father’s original Mexican restaurant, Taqueria La Tapatia.
Now in their 20s, the brothers are running all aspects of the family business, doing everything from cooking and working the cash register to accounting “and anything else,” according to eldest brother Rick. It hasn’t been an easy road, with many disasters heaped upon one another. But the brothers have taken each obstacle in stride. Their father’s perseverance, from the time he came to Guerneville with a plan, has had something to do with that. It’s that same perseverance the brothers bring to their business now.
Amidst fires, floods and evacuations, they’ve had to pivot many times to keep afloat.
“Over the past few years, our supporters have pushed us to believe in ourselves,” Rick said.
“My dad has told us that he never went through so many challenges in such a short timespan. It’s insane, but he said we’ll be better prepared for the future,” Rick said.
The taqueria had been recently renovated when it was wrecked by the 2019 floods. It was a complete loss, and the brothers said they simply had to cut their losses and move forward.
“It was a tough decision, but we accepted it,” Andre said. They also had to relocate the taco truck several times during the Kincade fire to keep it out of harm’s way.
Then the coronavirus pandemic took hold around the world, bringing a new challenge.
“We thought the worst was over, but then we got the pandemic, and we’re just counting our blessings and happy to keep feeding our famous Mexican food,” Andre said. The truck continues to operate for takeout, and the River Inn Grill is also open for takeout.
In the taco truck, the brothers keep a faded picture of themselves and their father from the time when they were small. It’s a reminder of how hard their father worked and how they grew up in the business.
“We consider him a pioneer. He ventured to Guerneville with a vision,” Andre said.
Porfirio Vazquez is now retired and “living the life” back in Mexico, according to his sons. But they fondly remember drawing and doing homework at the bar of the taqueria as children while their father worked gruelling hours.
“When I was a kid, I was so annoyed,” Andre said of doing grocery runs with his dad early in the mornings. Porfirio would work throughout the day with friends and family to keep the businesses going.
“We would roam around the restaurant, and sometimes he’d make us do little tasks. If we got bored, he’d turn on the TV. But he was so determined, and we grew up watching him work,” Andre said.
Porfirio’s story of coming to America in the 1980s as a farm worker from Jalisco, Mexico, is a familiar one. One of 10 children, Rick Vazquez says the poverty in Jalisco was so severe that his grandfather struggled just to keep the family from starving. Porfirio wanted a new start and opportunity.
In California, he found jobs at Sterling and Korbel wineries. But he missed the cuisine of his homeland. With little in the way of Mexican food available here, Porfirio eventually purchased the original food truck in 1992. Five years later, he opened Taqueria Tapatia.
“It became a town attraction. People would come every year to the restaurant on the way to the ocean. The same people came back,” Andre said.
People return again and again to the truck nowadays. They’re often lined up for the California burrito, the most popular seller.
“We couldn’t be more grateful to every one of our customers,” Rick said. “Because without them, we wouldn’t be where we are now, and we’re happy.”