The kitchen is hot, customers are lining up, and Connie Chavirra is ready to serve.
“You want jalapenos with that, mama?” she asks a customer, handing over a heaping plate of taquitos with slices of avocado, grilled onions and two lime slices on the side.
Her husband, Gonzalo Martinez, is flipping over hamburger and hot dog buns on the grill, with a fajita quesadilla ready to go. The couple and business partners and their Food Mania food truck are parked by the side of one of Harlingen’s largest call centers located in the heart of the medical district.
“Here you go, mama,” Chavirra said, handing over a plate of four quesadilla slices with fries on the side. “See you next week.”
“Of course!” is the response of another happy Food Mania customer.
Martinez and Chavirra went into the food truck business on something of a whim two years ago. He had years of experience as a cook working for one of Harlingen’s mainstay Mexican food restaurants. She had worked years past as a waitress. Looking for a change in their lives and a more flexible schedule that would allow them to spend more time with their daughters, the couple took the plunge, buying a food truck a friend had told them was for sale.
“We really had no idea what it was to run a business,” Chavirra said, “but now here we are.”
Three days a week, they dock adjacent to two of Harlingen’s larger call centers. On Fridays, they focus on deliveries, especially of the ceviche, which is one of Martinez’s specialties. The fire-truck-red Food Mania food truck is often at city-sanctioned events and festivals on weekends. The couple also caters for all kinds of parties and celebrations.
They host an active Facebook page and promote where they are headed.
“Who is ready for Viva Streets?” one of their posts asks about a Harlingen city event in early April. “It will be a pleasure to greet you there.”
The Food Mania menu is a hybrid of Mexican and American dishes. There are Philly cheese steaks and bacon cheeseburgers to go with the taquitos, tortas, and the picante and black beans of their native Tampico. The lettering of the truck features their hometown with “Tampico Style.”
“I’ve always liked the kitchen,” said Martinez, who is the son of cooks, as he flips a fresh bun on a cheeseburger.
“He’s the heart of what we do,” Chavirra said. “The food, the quality of it, is what brings people back.” Her engagement with customers, the friendly smile and banter, no doubt is also a factor in their success.
“Con todo?” she asks a customer whether he wants all of the fixings with his burger. When he replies with a yes, she beams with a smile and hands over a hearty burger-and-fries combo.
“Always hot and fresh, no matter what we make,” she said.
Off into the future, Chavirra sees the couple owning and running an entertainment hall/events center, but for now the red food truck on wheels is enough of a challenge.
“We like it all,” she said as another group of customers walks up to the windows of Food Mania. “We have to keep working at it.”