Mexicue co-founders David Schillace and Thomas Kelly in front of their Midtown restaurant.
Image courtesy of NY Eater.
Last summer, a bright orange food truck began making daily pit stops during lunch and dinner hours throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. Mexicue's aim: to simply introduce “red-hot Mexican cuisine and down-home, barbeque goodness,” all in one. Within 13 months, Mexicue's infused menu has helped them achieve what many food trucks hope to accomplish—going from a restaurant on wheels to a permanent establishment.
Before Mexicue began, friends David Schillace and Thomas Kelly worked in corporate sales and marketing jobs, spending most of the hours hooked on a telephone and behind a computer screen. Unamused by the repetitive workload, Schillace and Kelly left their jobs. After taking a trip to Los Angeles and discovering the Kogi BBQ food truck (known for their Korean and Mexican infused burritos, tacos, and quesadillas), Schillace returned to New York City and approached Kelly about bringing a similar concept to the city. Originally, Schillace's concept was around tamales, but Kelly had a different plan. "I tend to create stupid things that often work out well, so when I began mixing green chili sauce with smoked short ribs, and poblanos with tomatillo sauce on barbequed chicken, everything came together," Kelly said to NY Eater. After four months of experimenting, Schillace and Kelly took Mexicue to streets.
On Mexicue's opening day, the food truck parked in Park Slope and received numerous compliments from customers. As a result, it convinced Schillace and Kelly to take a chance on Midtown. The next day, the bright orange food truck parked on 52nd Street and Park Avenue. Within minutes, the line was three city blocks long, but it was not as easy as they thought it would be. "Although we went through people quickly, it was tough. We made a lot of mistakes in the beginning, but we learned from them and we adjusted," Schillace said.
But they didn't adjust quickly enough. Within days of their opening, Schillace, Kelly, and their employees (including a line cook named Pancho), struggled with the high demands. Many customers complained that the wait, which was anywhere from thirty to forty-five minutes, was not worth the BBQ brisket sliders or the smoked short ribs tacos. The issue had a lot to do with a disorganized kitchen and small, inexperienced staff. Numerous negative comments on food blogs like Midtown Lunch and Food Truck Talk pushed Schillace and Kelly to make some changes. "We knew we had some operation issues to fix. It wasn't, 'Where should we put the truck?' but 'How can we keep enough food on the truck?' and from that point on we started producing more food, and working with our team on how to get people in and out quicker," Schillace said. Within six months, Mexicue made major improvements, not only in service but in taste.
A year later, Mexicue opened their first restaurant in Chelsea, and two months following, the second restaurant in the Lower East Side opened its doors. The simple, order-at-the-counter space has bright orange walls to match Mexicue's bright orange truck, serving the same menu as their food trucks, but also rice bowls and salads. Although their are some minor things that can be tweaked (like the menu only being posted at the counter and the somewhat small portion of their food), Schillace and Kelly are satisfied with the results.
But Mexicue would not have made it this far without the help of their loyal customers. In a year, Mexicue's Twitter followers have gone from 650 to over 7,500, with the number continuing to grow. This month, Schillace and Kelly opened a contest to have their customers submit new food creations, with the winning dish to be added to their food truck and restaurant menu. And this is all due to Mexicue's strong brand. "If you develop a strong brand, the sky's the limit, then you can take that brand and do whatever you want with it," Kelly said. "People recognize it, people become familiar with it, and you can take it in whatever direction you want." As a result, Mexicue have been able to open not just one, but two restaurants. Although, it only seems like the beginning of more to follow.