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Meet Rodolfo Barrientos of Gracias Senor

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rodolfo Barrientos.

Rodolfo, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I started the food truck as a last hurrah. It was my way of going out with a bang if I was going to go out at all. In a foolish display of arrogance, I quit my job convinced that I would find something else that paid me the same amount or better.

Sadly, I was mistaken. I made the decision to leave my job at one of the worst times in the job market. The 2008 market crash happened a few years earlier and unemployment records were through the roof. Finding any job was a feat all on its own, let alone finding a good paying job. Resolved to make a decent living, I ended up having to work three jobs at the same time in order to pay for all my bills and expenses. It was a nightmare that had become my reality, but I continued going through the motions of waking up, heading to one job, then the next and getting little to no sleep.

To give some context to my story, you first need to understand my legal situation, I am a DREAMer. It’s not a metaphor. It means I benefit from a temporary legal status that grants me a work permit, a driver’s license and the ability to live in the United States without the constant fear that I will be deported, as long as I pay the bi-annual fee to renew my status and as long as being a DREAMer doesn’t become illegal. It is a mutual agreement between the government and DREAMers where we give the country our youth, our dreams, our trust and in return we get a paper that allows us a maybe ticket to the American Dream.

Before the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), I was bound to one job. The DACA program gave me the opportunity to experience a privilege many take for granted, the ability to work and make a living. It gave me the hope that I could now do more and so I began my entrepreneurial journey.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Before I could even begin to plan my business idea, I had to wrestle and overcome the mental doubts and fears of being undocumented. The reality that I could lose everything that I had worked for was terrifying. The decision to embark on the pursuit of your dreams risking your money, your time and pride is a difficult journey. Adding the fact that things could go south due to my immigration status made the stakes so much higher.

Once I overcame the worries and doubts that come with being undocumented, aided by the DACA program, I was ready to move on to the next challenge. I had to conquer the deceit of my business partner. As a young and inexperienced entrepreneur, I was easily fooled by the man who at the time was my boss and bragged about his skills in opening up businesses. Me, young and eager to build something of my own and lacking the experience to document any business contracts ended up losing significant savings after my former boss and business partner disappeared with money I contributed for my portion of the food truck investment we were going in on together.

Because of this disheartening incident, I fell into depression and I felt foolish for being so easily conned out of my savings. Armed with courage, I managed to get myself out of the depression and resolved myself to see my vision through. I went from food truck commissary to food truck commissary, researched the industry and eventually came across an opportunity that would make me the owner of an old beat-up funky colored GMC catering truck.

I had a truck, I had a vision, but I had no experience in the food industry, the truck kept breaking down and I had no sales. I was faced with the challenging task of winning the trust of a community notoriously known for not caring much for taco trucks in their corners. All of this happened while juggling my education goals as a full time student.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
We specialize in the craft of not only providing great tacos but in immersing our customers in the taco culture by providing a service and flavors deeply rooted in authenticity and humility.

Our concept is based on simplicity by making everything in house, the day off. From our hand-made corn tortillas to our salsas we source the best quality and freshest ingredients.

Our specialty is our beer battered fish tacos and Surf and Turf burrito which take their inspiration from my childhood growing up in Baja California, where the battered fish taco originated.

Our biggest goal as a brand is not to simply provide a meal but to create a culture of a taco lover who connects with our story of immigrants in the pursuit of the American dream. We do this by sharing our culture, our struggles and our victories with those who share the value of hard work, dignity, and education.

As a brand, I am proud of the work we have done in the community where we have created bonds with the local high school kids. So much so that once they’ve left high school, they make Gracias Senor one of their first stops back once they’re home for breaks or holidays. We created relationships with the parents of these youths who support our service as a taco truck but also see the impact we have in bringing awareness of important social issues that might not otherwise get to such an insulated community like the Pacific Palisades.

What do you like and dislike about the city?
My favorite element of the city is its diversity. The fact that I can interact with people all over the world, find foods and stories that reflect diverse backgrounds, and in that pursuit, connecting and growing with the city and becoming more in tune with those that surround me.

I dislike the traffic that is LA. I also dislike the economic disparity that grows with each year making it much more difficult for small businesses to thrive and grow. I dislike the inability to afford a home, and I especially dislike how expensive Los Angeles is.

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