What began as a dream and a trailer hitched to the back of a truck has evolved into a sought-after mobile eatery.
Rob Cruz, who has been in the restaurant business his whole life, has owned and operated Fuego Food Truck with longtime friend Phil Hollar since 2013. The duo is now known for superior catering, posting up outside bars without kitchens and frequenting food festivals along the East Coast.
This past summer, they won best overall at Delaware's inaugural Taco Festival at the Wilmington Blue Rocks stadium and were just invited to participate in the second annual Southern Tequila & Taco Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee.
While the truck has done well, the business' growth has been stunted by certain limitations. Bad weather, limited visibility and being at the mercy of other businesses as to where they park are all factors.
"A food truck's strengths go hand in hand with its weaknesses," said Rob Cruz.
So, when space became available on First Avenue in downtown Rehoboth Beach, they jumped on it.
"It's perfect for us," he said, adding the location, once occupied by Otto's Sandwich Shop, needed minimum work to renovate. The friends are shooting for a soft opening near St. Patrick's Day.
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Although a handful of mobile eateries have popped up on Delmarva in recent years, many got their start as restaurants. Business owners with an entrepreneurial spirit, like Mike Clampitt, have added food trucks into the mix to help expand their brand.
Clampitt, who owns Po' Boys Creole and Fresh Catch in Milton, said the addition has been great.
"It has been a wonderful source of advertising for the restaurant," he said. "We have gained more new customers from all over that tried the food truck and now come to the restaurant. Also, the food truck took off because of the reputation of the restaurant. I feel that made it much easier to book events."
Cruz and Hollar aren't the only ones doing the reverse.
Ashley Schrock and Heather Landis opened A’ Latte Soul, a specialty coffee truck in August 2015. Their caffeinated drinks were so popular, they were able to open a shop in downtown Milford after just six months.
"The truck was a great starting point for us for a number of reasons," Ashley Schrock said. "It got our name out there, allowed us to build capital up front and gave us flexibility. We had no idea things would take off as quickly as they did."
Cruz, who has consulted with dozens of restaurants to revamp menu recipes, is excited to finally create one for his own stationary eatery.
Fuego To-Go, as the brick and mortar will be called, will boast a fresh and homemade menu offering 20 signature tacos, rice bowls, "new age" quesadillas, Mexican street corn, loaded tots, empanadas and boomrachees — an original creation described as a huarache mixed with stuffed plantains.
The restaurant will also offer Mexican cupcakes and desserts made by Cupcake Chick Bakery in Blackwood, New Jersey.
And spicy fans, rejoice.
The Fuego motto is, "you want it hot, you got it hot." Cruz guarantees he can "make you sweat."
Fuego To-Go will have a laid-back atmosphere, offering a few seats and delivery. Additionally, during the summer, the restaurant will be open until 3 a.m. daily. Cruz hopes industry workers, such as nurses, responders, bartenders and servers will take advantage of the late-night hours and delivery service.
"We aren't looking to take away from other businesses," he said. "We are looking to fill a void no one else is filling. No one else is open that late and no one else is delivering quality Mexican food."
The delivery route will go as far south as the Indian River Inlet and as far north as Lewes, he said.
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