Truck Stop: El Guapo Grill
A Mexican grill on wheels is a driving force for the breakfast and lunch crowd in downtown Detroit
Just before 7:30 on weekday mornings, a big and boxy black truck lumbers into its spot in the parking lot at the corner of Randolph and Monroe. At the wheel is Doug Runyon, who’s sporting a black T-shirt and jeans — a style departure from the dress shirt and suit he wore in his previous job with Michael Mina restaurants: SaltWater and Bourbon Steak, at the MGM Grand Detroit Casino.
The truck remains at that location, dishing up breakfast burritos and lunchtime tacos to the downtown crowd until its mid-afternoon departure. This is one of two entrepreneurs who are the first to be sanctioned by the City of Detroit to dispense food from a mobile kitchen. Runyon’s business partner is Anthony Curis, a real-estate developer by trade who is the business mind of the duo. Runyon, who now likes to call himself a “trucker,” is the restaurant guy.
Their El Guapo Fresh Mexican Grill — the first of its kind to find a legal welcome in Detroit — is ambitious in terms of fresh local ingredients and preparation. Runyan and Curis worked for more than a year on the project, researching food-truck businesses in Nevada and Texas, before the July debut of their eye-catching truck. Their experience getting approval from the Bing administration was great, they say. “They’ve been phenomenal,” Curis says, singling out Kim James, director of buildings and safety; Nate Ford, head of business development; and group executive of planning and facilities, Karla Henderson, all of whom helped get the project on the road.
The 20-foot vehicle, a used 1995 truck purchased from Wyss Catering Truck Manufacturing Inc. of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., is outfitted with a complete aluminum and stainless- steel kitchen that includes a triple refrigerator and freezer, a flat-top grill, and three exhaust fans. There’s also a computer that speeds orders from customers queuing up outside the truck to Jose Lara, who mans the grill. Another employee, Nneka Austin, works in the prep area. The truck is big enough to accommodate four people — barely.
Most of the prep work, including marinating the meat for 24 hours, is done in a Madison Heights commissary.
The menu is basic, an array of tacos and burritos filled with adobo-marinated steak and chicken, pork chorizo, or vegetables on tortillas, with such accompaniments as rice, beans, guacamole, and four fresh salsas: mild, hot, green, and the house specialty, Guapo salsa, which is a chipotle-ranch mix that Runyon dreamed up in his home kitchen.
Bottles of original-flavor Faygo, Great Lakes coffee, and the sole dessert, Pink Elephant cupcakes, underscore the local approach that is important to Runyon and Curis, who met when Runyon married Curis’ second cousin.
The business partners appear to be having a lot of fun with their enterprise, which was green-lighted by the city for six months (with a renewal expected), after which they hope to expand their schedule to other parts of the city. The El Guapo truck is also available for private catering.
Food trucks have been a familiar sight in cities across the country for years. In fact, Wyss, the truck manufacturer, has been in business for more than 50 years. Still, food trucks are a novelty in Detroit, and in the early going for El Guapo, the reception has been welcoming, as downtown workers line up for their al-fresco meals, toting them to park benches or simply munching on the way back to the office.