For years now people have been begging us to offer more takeaway (presumably to increase the risk of spilling salsa over their keyboard), but it’s always proved tricky without disrupting the restaurants main service. Now, we’re the first people to realise that this isn’t a great answer. If the people want it, surely there’s a way to give it to them. And if you’re going to give it to them, you might as well have a laugh doing it. So the idea struck us – rather than opening up a dedicated takeaway, with traditional things like walls and a roof, wouldn’t it be nicer to be able to take the tacos to the people – We needed wheels. The taco van dream was born and the search for our truck began.
It was after a chance encounter with Simon Swift, from the totally brilliant Wondering Wine company, that we first laid eyes on what would become the newest member of the Wahaca family. Looking past the rust, gathering moss and dodgy engine, we immediately fell in love with the characterful shape of this classic Citroen HY van – Born in 1958 and later re-bodied to transform it into, amongst other things, a shop selling leather and Citroen memorabilia (not at the same time). She was perfect for our needs.
It turns out converting an old van into a fully working kitchen fit to serve the finest tacos and burritos in all the land isn’t that straightforward.
You start with a specialist mechanic. This one’s called Alex.
Then you breakdown on the M25, a mere 40 minutes out of the workshop – Bad times. But it was here that we learnt how useful the words “low-loader” really are.
From a side junction of the motorway, it’s into the workshop of AJC trailers, a very impressive set up, where old vans go to get their va-va-voom slapped back into them. These were the guys who fitted our Robata charcoal grill – This behemoth of the meat cooking world is like a barbeque on crack – tiny jets pump air directly into the coals to superheat them, meaning that you have much higher temperatures and a smoky flavour that is worth travelling across town for. Having done some searching around, we think we’re the only van in the country equipped with such a thing, and the flavour is phenomenal.
But this wouldn’t be a true Wahaca if it didn’t have “the looks”, so next it was off to the spay shop. Spray shops are fun. They involve putting your vehicle into a big oven (honestly) and heating it up so you get an even covering of specially developed paint. The results are a van that looks as good as new – Not a French leather salesman in sight.
Once you’ve got a van that looks this good, you have to find a good home for it. We had thousands of requests for various parking spots around the country (which we still have in mind, don’t worry), but we felt it was best to start off in a site that we know, where our nearby restaurant can be on hand to cope with any teething problems and somewhere that housed a lot of burrito-hungry souls. So we headed to Canary Wharf’s Canada Square Park. Ideal you might think, until you find out that the only way into the park is through the lobby of One Canada Square, the tallest building in the country and one which comes with a selection of health and safety paperwork almost as tall. It made for a fun Saturday morning.
After all that effort, you don’t want to open without a bang: Cue 2 days of free burritos, a mariachi band, a donkey called Larry and a queue that threated to take over the whole of Canada Square Park. Canary Wharf had never had it so good.
And now comes the reality of running a new business – One that’s a little bit different to our other restaurants, one that we want to have as much fun as possible with, and one that we want your help in shaping the future of.
We have a new menu. It’s just a starting point (albeit a very delicious one) and something that we want to work with our customers to develop as we move on. If there’s something that you’d like to see on there, please leave a comment below let us know on facebook or twitter or go along and chat to guys. We want to make the most of our new found flexibility.
You can find us in Canary Wharf until the end of the summer when we are off to Gloucestershire for the van’s first festival – Harvest at Alex James’ farm. And then we’d like you to help us decide where we should move on to – The louder you shout, the harder we’ll search for a parking space that we’re allowed to use.
The Mexican Street Kitchen is something we’re so excited about. We owe so much to everyone who has contributed so much to it, none less so than Charlie Carroll – The man with the van plan. If you’re in the area, go down and pat him on the back and chat to him about burritos. He’ll tell you a thing or two about tortillas, the perfect searing temperature of steak and how difficult it is to find a mechanic in Luton who knows how to fix a 53 year old clutch.
Here’s to hitting the road.
by: Thursday, 21 July 2011