Taco stands feel the bite of inflation as food and gas prices soar

On a recent weekend night, street vendor Reina Orozco busied herself flipping store-bought tortillas on a makeshift grill as she prepared asada carne and chicken tacos for sale near MacArthur Park.

These days supplies are more expensive, and Orozco sometimes has to cut the meat in its $1.50 banh tet.

Orozco, 52, from Zacatecas, Mexico, said: “Price goes up, but that may not be a problem for hungry people with money.”

Rising food and fuel costs have forced some hawkers to allocate their supplies or raise their prices for what some see as affordable and convenient food. But for many entrepreneurs, their livelihoods are at stake amid soaring inflation.

From April 2021 to April 2022, the price of meat, poultry, fish and eggs across the United States increased 14%, one of the largest increases since 1979, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Fruit and vegetable prices also increased by nearly 8% year-on-year. According to personal finance website The Balance, the cost of propane has increased 26% since last year to an average of $3.08 per gallon.

In the faint light of day, the smoke from the 26th Avenue Tacos in Little Tokyo wafts through the air,
beckoning to hungry patrons who have just left work. A deep-fried pork chop with onions on a trompo rotates over an open flame and tortillas are flipped over a Mexican comal.

Erasmo Reyes, 48, and his son, Cesar, 26, watch as several chefs prepare carne asada and tacos al pastor for a steady stream of customers.

The first stall opened on 26th Avenue in Lincoln Heights more than a decade ago. During the pandemic, a bustling night market sprang up in the area, attracting more eaters, more vendors and ultimately problems. The city closed the night market last year because of health and safety concerns.

Rafael Gonzalez cooks meats for banh tet at 26 Tacos Avenue in Little Tokyo. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Rafael Gonzalez cooks a meat to make banh tet at 26 Tacos Avenue in Little Tokyo on Thursday.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Cesar Reyes started working for his father at the age of 14, perfecting family recipes brought in from Puebla, Mexico. When it became clear that their Lincoln Heights location was too crowded, he looked for a new location to keep the family business running.

Over the years, the family increased the cost of their banh tet from 50 cents to the current $1.75. But the Reyes family is always the last to raise prices whenever possible.

“When people saw that we were doing well on 26th Avenue, they followed us and cooked food like ours. And then they start raising prices, but we always make sure we’re the last to raise our prices,” Cesar said.

While food prices are skyrocketing, Reyeses said they must also consider their loyal patrons.

“We see that, but right now we have to wait and see. We are not going to increase our prices, because we have to think of our customers,” Erasmo said.

“A lot of our customers are low-income people who enjoy our food and can’t always pay more than $2 for a taco,” says Cesar Reyes. “Sometimes you have customers arguing about price, but we have to tell them it’s not our fault. Prices are going up and we will continue to make our food the way our customers have always liked. They don’t realize that if we don’t raise prices now and then, we might not be there. “

Brothers Miguel and Luis Contreras stand with their families in the shade of a school bus parked near the grill. Miguel said they spent about $60 on food for about six people and another $20 on soft drinks.

“Of course we know about inflation,” Miguel said in Spanish. “But I went to work, got home tired and wanted to eat, so I came to get food.”

“No way. We have to feed our family,” said Luis. “I know gas is expensive and close to $7 in many places, but I still have to drive to work.”

Two brothers work at a party supply store. They and their families eat banh tet at the taco stand maybe once a week due to soaring grocery prices.

Luis Contreras admits: “I don’t pay attention to the price of the tacos. “Maybe I should, but I don’t. I don’t usually ask”.

The atmosphere in the casual car park has a general vibe as people edit and eat their food. Some play music from their cars, while others simply eat off their hoods.

Kelsey McCoy and Sandra Gao often bring out-of-town guests to 26 Tacos Avenue.

“They’re probably the best people in town,” McCoy said.

“We will keep coming back,” Gao said. “Even if the price goes up a bit. They are increasing everywhere. Even the bacon-wrapped hotdogs you see outside Staples Center these days are just as expensive. Like almost $9.”

At the other end of the parking lot, Karla Perez eats a quesadilla with chorizo ​​and has a pastor’s taco on the side.

“Almost like $12 for my quesadilla, it was like too much,” said Perez. “Good food but maybe too much. I don’t want it more if I go to a sit-down restaurant.”

While some customers may complain about prices, some suppliers’ allies understand that there’s more to the threat than just a price shock.

Rudy Espinoza, executive director of the nonprofit Comprehensive Action for the City, “I think people don’t understand real food prices. The group advocates on behalf of street vendors and also provides micro-loans and business coaching to aspiring entrepreneurs.

“[Customers] They might see a street vendor, and they might assume it’s affordable, or affordable. And they can be ironic if prices go up from week to week. They can expect food to be affordable all the time. And that’s not real,” Espinoza said.

He doesn’t expect it to get any better any time soon given the high costs of groceries, fuel and services. He hopes that people realize how much work street vendors have to do to prepare food before they take to the streets and light up their ovens.

Since the pandemic began, more and more street vendors have taken on large micro-loans and other support from his team, Espinoza said.

“There are a lot of people looking for capital to start a food business, especially when food prices go up. They’re struggling to figure out how to pay for all sorts of tough expenses, while at the same time making sure they don’t pass the debt on to their customers,” Espinoza said. “But at some point, they, you know, they have to. I think everyone has to contribute to this.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-02/taco-stands-feel-the-bite-of-inflation-as-meat-gas-prices-soar Taco stands feel the bite of inflation as food and gas prices soar

Russell Falcon

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