It’s tough taking lessons away from an unimaginable situation. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, no one has been left unaffected. And so many questions simply don’t have answers at this time, and maybe never will.
But if there’s one thing to take away from all this, it’s been the role of small businesses in our communities. Supporting them now has become more important than ever.
“Before we look to the convenience of a large chain. I think that’s going to be really important in this time for us to be able to support ourselves” said Chicas Tacos head chef Eduardo Ruiz. “And I hope that as we come out of this together, we stick together and work as a team to get back to where we need to be.”
Located in downtown Los Angeles and Culver City, Chicas Tacos prides itself on being authentic. Both in its food and in its community. So, when coronavirus struck and halted nearly all activity in the city, they took a step back. And they listened to the community.
Chicas Tacos was transformed from a taqueria into a local market. Ruiz and his business partner Chris Blanchard went from selling tacos to selling essentials like eggs, milk, toilet paper, and face masks. Proceeds from the market went to Chicas Tacos staff affected by the reduction in restaurant business.
Now as the community’s needs have shifted, Chicas Tacos is listening once again.
The staples of Chicas classic menu items have returned. And to meet the changing needs of the community, Chicas introduced a new offering of safely produced, packaged, and delivered family meals and cook-at-home meals.
“We’ve seen a huge positive response for the large family packs,” Ruiz said. “Build your own at home, finishing cooking at home, those kinds of meals are really working out. It’s about providing authenticity and providing somebody the experience but kind of tailoring it towards the conditions we are in right now.”
As a partner of Chicas Tacos, both in Banc of California Stadium and in the community, LAFC is doing its part by purchasing family meals from Chicas and delivering them to Black & Gold families affected by the crisis. To learn more about what Chicas is doing in the local community and the partnership with LAFC, I spoke with Ruiz and Chris Blanchard of Chicas Tacos to learn more. Below is our Q&A:
How are you dealing with the COVID-19 crisis both personally and at Chicas Tacos?
Eduardo: First of all, I think we’re all blessed in that all of our staff is healthy and hasn’t been directly affected by what’s going on other than the reduction of business and some people aren’t working right now. But otherwise, we’re all healthy and we’re all checking in on each other. The team has come together and some of them are supporting themselves by making sure all the information that is out there about resources is being shared amongst the team. Those who are working right now as we start to ramp business back up are all very happy to be back at work and being able to continue to provide food for the community.
As we have more opportunities like [working with the Black & Gold Community Fund] and other opportunities that we’re trying to take advantage of in helping others in the community, we’re all pretty excited about continuing to make food again. It was a little depressing not to have the restaurant open for a little while. Just having to communicate to everyone what is happening on a daily basis so people’s fears of what’s going on are alleviated by what we can do as a community to help each other.
Chris: To add to that, I’m very thankful that my wife and I and our immediate family are all healthy. We’ve unfortunately suffered one loss in our family due to the disease. But we’re thankful that the team, as Eddie mentioned and I’ll echo, is healthy. There’s the unfortunate side of all of this, where there are those that want to work and are able to work. And it’s just difficult as the demand isn’t there. Our goal and focus, as of our decision to temporarily pause all operations as of the 17th was to really wrap our heads around what was actually happening. More than anything, just trying to pay respect to our team and provide a healthy and safe environment for them to shelter in place. We worked quickly with the help of friends and fans as we pivoted offering gift cards for sale, 40 percent of those proceeds going to our team. And then subsequently, in the middle of April, we opened up what we called our Chicas Tacos Marketplace and those proceeds went to our team and their families as well. We were able to feed our team, their families, and some of the supporting community.
It’s just a blessing to have partners like LAFC which are that involved in the community. It really is a testament to what the Club’s commitment is, like your Street by Street program, really owning and being a part of the community. We’re thankful to be a part of that and to help with the process.
Tell me more about the marketplace and how you’re listening to the community’s needs to plan your next steps.
Chris: They have the biggest hearts. And they give the most. We are scrappers. We’ve seen taqueros to fine-dining restaurants that have done amazing things. When we looked at the lines around the block to go into grocery stores, we thought we could help provide to ease some of the burden of our awesome folks that are working at the grocery stores to ways to bring hours back to our team and staff, the marketplace was a no-brainer. It was a brainchild of Eddie and Ronit our vice president. It was a collection of simple things you get at the market like eggs, milk, and other products in that ballpark. And then things to help people protect themselves like masks, gloves, toilet paper, and paper towels. Simple things that we would normally take for granted and were difficult to get.
Eduardo: A lot of it was just knowing that there was a larger need at the moment. We relaunched for the community to have other avenues to get grocery essentials and household essentials. That’s what we launched with. Now that things have evened out in the market, we’ve seen a huge decrease in those sales. I feel like the supermarkets and all of the stores have leveled out, so we’re phasing out of that and trying to reintroduce our classic menu items. We’re adding things back on as people who are starting to come back voice their wants and needs from our classic menu.
And then also, for us it’s about looking at what we’re selling and making adjustments every single day to ensure that the business can stay afloat and also that we’re serving the community. We started off with the marketplace, and we still have some of those items available, but the community is not really needing that anymore. So, we’re phasing those out and we’re learning that people are just kind of excited to see restaurants open back up and go back to revisit those to bring food that they like and love back into their houses. The fear of running out of certain things like toilet paper and face masks is starting to alleviate in the city, so we can start focusing on making food.
What’s been the response to the changes you’ve made at Chicas?
Eduardo: It depends. I think we’re seeing two different responses in Culver City and in downtown LA. In Downtown, it’s a really quiet neighborhood right now. There aren’t too many people out. The allure of living in a downtown area has kind of disappeared. We’re seeing a lot less traffic. People are living on top of each other and during these conditions it’s not ideal. People are moving out of downtown LA. And so, for us in downtown, people are looking for something quick and easy to grab. So, our menu is a little bit different in downtown than in Culver City. In Culver City, because we have the new location, it’s a different atmosphere and more family-driven, people are learning about our food and getting the larger family packs.
We’ve seen a huge positive response for the large family packs. Build your own at home, finishing cooking at home, those kinds of meals are really working out. And like you said, it’s about providing authenticity and providing somebody the experience but kind of tailoring it towards the conditions we are in right now. So, people don’t necessarily want to go to the markets to shop as often as they once did. Where before we used to stop at the market for something on the way home, now it’s like I just want somebody to deliver my food order to my car, I take it home and it’s all sealed and packaged nicely, I unpack it and do whatever my house protocols are to bring it into the house, and I can feed my family as they come home or as I need. And we can basically build our food, build our tacos at home and kind of get that same experience that you would going to a taqueria. But it’s tailored towards the conditions that we are currently living in.
Chris: It’s been really cool. I’ve had the pleasure of working at the front of the restaurant and being able to talk to some of the guests that have come in or meet some folks at the curbside as we drop off food. They’re both excited to have something new in their kitchens that they can either cook with or share with their family and they’re excited to have simple things like just a taco. Something as simple as that just brings that joy back to people’s daily lives.
When LAFC reached out about partnering with Chicas Tacos to help feed families, what was your first response?
Chris: Community is really what Chicas Tacos is built on. I had a fortunate experience in my youth through youth ministry groups. And Eddie had a fortunate childhood where he and his family were able to cook for a congregation that was attached to his family property. Community and giving and being a part of that world is the foundation and how Chicas started. When these opportunities came up to help our local church or community center or first responders in Culver City, we immediately jumped on the opportunity.
When this opportunity with LAFC came up, the only answer is yes. How can we get involved, how can we help, what can we do? It’s awesome to know that LAFC has dug deep and is going to be donating some really cool things to folks as they receive these meals. But again, it just feels great and it's woven into our thread of who we are as a restaurant to be able to be a part of this and help where we can.
Eduardo: We’re doing our part in the community to do the best we can. I wish we could do more, and we were in a position to do more. But there are partners out there who are able to do more than we are and they’re involving us in their mission. At the end of the day, by LAFC helping us and launching this program allows us to sell more food, which allows us to give more hours to the staff. And it’s just about going back to the basics of running a business. All restaurants, all businesses are kind of like in need of a big bump. I imagine it where we're all having cardiac arrest, everybody is stuck in these positions, and we just need that shock to get our hearts back up and going. A lot of the larger businesses that have the opportunity to help smaller businesses jumpstart their engines again that allows us to continue to be able to make moves. And then when we have the opportunity to help other people, we’ll continue to do that.
LAFC is a big voice in the city. They have a large fan base. We’ve been lucky to be a part of that fan base since Day 1. LAFC is doing the right thing by involving small businesses in these programs so that we can, therefore, get out into the community. Let people know we’re up and running. Let people know what we do and what we serve. The more food we can sell, the more food we can make, and the more opportunities for everybody else along that chain of running a restaurant, running a big business, or even running a small taqueria. It’s all a giant train-effect. We need the engine to get running and we’re going to be one of the trains that are helping to push this city back to what it once was.
Chris: We’re thankful and proud to be part of the Black & Gold family. We’re thankful to be a part of LAFC. And the community has done a great job. Remember that small business is there and if you want them to stay post-COVID, we’ve got to support each other. Like they say, it takes a village to raise. We need to stick together to help this village that is LA or each community or each borough that we live in to support one another. And we’re seeing that, and it’s a true testament to people and who we are as a community. More than anything, we also want to applaud first responders and people on the front lines, our communities, and our friends and family that have donated their time and do what they’re doing. They’re donating their food or their time. And we just want to give a big shout out to everybody that helps ease some person in this time that no one could have ever imagined.