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The ‘next cool thing’

SANTA FE, N.M. — Asked why he’s interested in creating menus for all different kinds of cuisine, chef Enrique Guerrero’s instinctive answer was simple.

“I get bored very easy,” he said.

It’s the reason he says he opened the popular Bang Bite Filling Station in 2013, following his retirement.

The well-received food truck, serving burgers, sandwiches and fries – with a gourmet touch – has moved around Santa Fe. But, in September, it settled in a parking lot on West Water Street next to the Inn at Vanessie, the venerable Santa Fe institution that recently contracted with Guerrero to revamp the hotel and its restaurant.

The chef’s résumé includes working in restaurants in New York and Las Vegas, Nev., before he ran Santa Fe eateries like La Casa Sena, Mangiamo Pronto and El Nido.

Josh Demoss prepares burgers for customers at the Bang Bite food truck in Santa Fe last month. Chef and owner Enrique Guerrero plans more food trucks in an area off Water Street. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Vanessie is not the chef’s only new venture. Guerrero has a goal of turning the Water Street area surrounding Bang Bite’s current spot into a distinct food truck center, similar to clusters of rolling diners or food stands that exist in downtown areas across the country.

He plans to add more trucks of his own, each with a menu, he says, inspired by his travels and lifetime memories.

Along with more street food, he envisions a space full of seating – the Water Street lot currently has about three tables – and a playground area for kids.

“If we can offer five to seven different concepts to our customers within a couple of steps from each other, I think that would be pretty cool,” he said.

He already purchased two new trucks and has plans for at least two more, all of which will veer away from what Bang Bite offers. He will own all of them, and the employees will be people he has worked with before. That, Guerro says, will assure customers that each truck will be of the same quality as the current one.

A sign is displayed on the side of Enrique Guerrero’s Swine and Bird food truck. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Already in the parking lot next to Bang Bite is Guerrero’s Swine and Bird truck. He described its menu as Southern comfort food and is hoping to open the truck by early February, depending on permit approval. Bang Bite has been testing out specials like the “Angry Bird” fried chicken with a Louisiana-inspired spicy sauce, pulled pork and sides like jalapeno coleslaw that have been positively received.

The other upcoming truck, “Xochitl,” hits closer to home for him. Named after his great-grandmother, the truck’s menu will feature entrees inspired by Mexico’s southern region, including places like Oaxaca and Yucatán.

“It was very unique,” he said, reminiscing about his great-grandmother’s cooking, adding that memories of what she used to make helped inspire the menu. “She used to cook a lot of things in clay pots, (and) everything was very fresh.”

He wants to make it clear that this truck, currently out of the lot for repairs, will not sell what visitors can already can find in local Mexican restaurants: no tacos, no burritos. Xochitl menu items advertised on the Bang Bite Facebook page have included Borrego Borracho, slow-braised lamb stew with cascabel chili, mulato chile sauce and rice, and a “Pambazo” torta filled with chorizo, potatoes, Oaxaca cheese and sauce made from guajilla peppers.

“That’s what we want from any one of these food trucks, we want to be unique,” Guerrero said. He hopes to have Xochitl serving food by March, around the same time he hopes to add two more trucks.

He’s working on a Japanese ramen truck called “Takenoko” and the other, “Delicatus,” with vegetarian and gluten-free options. Eventually, he wants to collaborate with an outside business to add a dessert truck to the cluster.

There are several upsides to having a food truck hub like this, said Chamber of Commerce President Simon Brackley. “It’s an additional attraction for locals to eat downtown and for visitors to come, and adds a little personality to Santa Fe,” he said.

Not to mention, he says, that food trucks are “hip and trendy” and can provide local entrepreneurs a place to try out an idea or menu without investing too much.

But Brackely also said food trucks come with the same challenges facing all of Santa Fe’s restaurants, including the ups and downs of dining demand. While a place may do well in summer’s tourist-heavy season, that may change in the winter months. Demand may even drastically change, depending on the day of the week, according to Brackley.

Robert Kret, left, of Santa Fe and his son Sam Kret of New York have lunch at the Bang Bite food truck in Santa Fe recently. (Eddie Moore/ Albuquerque Journal)

While standing out on his lot on a late December afternoon, Guerrero noted that Bang Bite on Water Street has had continued success during the winter, which he credits to the seasons’s fairly warm weather.

“Within the next half an hour, I’ll be sold out of food,” Guerrero said at around 2:30 p.m. the day after Christmas. Customers were still trickling in.

“So I’m pretty happy about it,” he said. “People like our product.”

Guerrero said Bang Bite’s following is always looking for the “next cool thing,” and that more and different menus can better attract a diverse clientele. Bang Bite already strives to feed people from all walks of life, catering to “the guy who’s driving the Maserati and to the guy who’s going to change the tires.”

“I believe everybody, whether you have tons of money or don’t, you want something that you can get a good value and for a good price,” he said.