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Tucson food trucks overcome challenges during the pandemic

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The owner of Cucusa's Caribbean Cuisine Dayami Exposito's bright orange food truck was parked and open for business. Courtesy Exposito

Last year marked a new beginning for up-and-coming business owners in the food industry. The pandemic has caused many food services to shut down along with all the grief and setbacks. A few new mobile food services like these three Tucson food truck businesses were finding ways to work in the food industry despite the difficulties.

Wrapido

University of Arizona alumnus Gregory Smith was the executive chef at the Marriott University Park Hotel for 21 years until the Marriott closed down all food and beverage services in March 2020. Smith found himself out of work waiting for his industry to get better. When the pandemic got worse, Smith and his wife Elizabeth Warburton-Smith decided to open up a mobile food kitchen business. 

Along with Smith’s background in the food industry, the couple was faced with a maze of permits, certifications and licenses to open up their food services. 

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Smith and his wife grow organic produce in a one-acre Rita Ranch Community Garden and harvest desert foods. The trailer they use is a cheery green made to fit their aesthetic of healthy and locally grown food. Wrapido provides at-home delivery services while moving around from Marana to Vail. Sometimes Wrapido rents time at a commercial kitchen commissary located in Corona de Tucson. 

“We are now in search of a location with a commercial kitchen that we can not only work out of for our own business but to use as a support site for other home-based food businesses and food truck operators,” Smith said via email. “We would like to help budding entrepreneurs and chefs get a solid start by offering our support and knowledge to help ensure their success too.”

Although events like the Fourth Avenue Street Fair have been canceled, the business has been going well for Wrapido. Smith noted there tended to be more individual customers instead since people may have felt more comfortable picking up food to-go over sitting down in a restaurant. 

Wrapido serves grilled chicken wraps and organic foods with keto or vegan options to choose from. The chicken in the wraps is humanely treated and each wrap has a mix of eight types of raw veggies according to Smith. The couple grows their own chilis and even a line of seasonings they incorporate into the business. 

For more information on Wrapido, their full menu, location and hours, visit their website

Cucusa’s Caribbean Cuisine

Dayami Exposito is a Cuban native who grew up in Puerto Rico. Food has always been apart of her culture. Her father was a food truck owner who is now opening up a restaurant in Puerto Rico.

Exposito said she decided to open up a food truck since her love for her children and cooking is so robust. In order to pass inspections, more requirements were expected by the Pima County Health Department due to COVID-19. 

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In March 2020, Exposito and her daughters were ready to open their services up until the pandemic hit. They waited until May to open up, and, for a while, the business was a big success since so many restaurants closed. As time went on, business fell apart since more options became available as restaurants started opening up.

Exposito’s main dishes are Puerto Rican and Cuban. Every time Exposito goes out, the main dishes change depending on her access to certain ingredients. The truck serves Caribbean bowls with a few options to choose such as Puerto Rican Pigeon Pea Rice or Cuban Ropa Vieja Beef. 

“I cannot go out as often right now because getting the food truck set and ready costs a lot of money,” Exposito said. “That’s why right now we are limited to go out only once a week, but hopefully things are going to get better. So far I’m happy I’m still out cooking and every day we get new people.”


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One of Dayami Exposito's menu items she made for her business, Cucusa's Caribbean Cuisine, mofongo stuffed with shrimp. (Courtesy Exposito)


Exposito was hoping to work at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show but learned it was canceled this year. Typically, Exposito parks her food truck outside of local breweries like the Arizona Beer House on a Friday or Saturday. 

For more information on Cucusa’s Caribbean Cuisine visit their website

The Sweet Coquí

Taitira Lorenzo, born in Puerto Rico and raised in Connecticut, relocated her family to Tucson in April of 2020. 

With her husband being an essential worker and both of her sons in online learning, Lorenzo said she wanted to explore a new career path. Lorenzo had previously owned a salon and worked as a nail technician. With no experience in the food industry and a new home, Lorenzo felt it was the right time for a new adventure.

“Opening any business during a pandemic and in a new state has its challenges but we have been fortunate to have found a very supportive and knowledgeable community in our fellow food truckers,” Lorenzo said via email. “It has been a wonderful experience thus far and the support from the Puerto Rican community and those looking for a new sweet experience have been overwhelming.”

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On occasion, Lorenzo brings Puerto Rican culture and favors to the Arizona Beer House on weekends. Lorenzo serves frappes inspired by Puerto Rican desserts, the frappes are decorated with extras like candy and cookies and whipped cream. 

Lorenzo’s dessert trailer is easily recognizable with a symbol of a Coquí frog on it originating from the Taíno, people who are Indigenous to the Caribbean. The frog is native to the island of Puerto Rico and the Taíno symbol is a fixture within Lorenzo’s culture.

For more information on The Sweet Coquí, visit their Facebook or Instagram


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UA COVID-19 Test Tracker

Daily (9/21)
993 29 2.9%
Total (8/2)
23,557 463 2.0%
Includes tests since August 2, 2021
Data from https://covid19.arizona.edu/updates
Updated September 22, 2021