Westword Magazine 2019
#1 People, #2 Judge - TOP TACO 2018
2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022
Blaine, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My story started as a kid in Roswell, New Mexico. Adam, my brother, and I were raised in by our mother who became an entrepreneur by necessity to provide for us. She worked in the medical field as a cardiologist and diagnostician. She worked extremely long hours and was on-call most of the time. Adam and I spent most of our time outdoors exploring the local creek or playing sports. As we grew older, seeing how hard our mother worked to provide for us left a lasting impact on me. When I was a junior in high school, she started her own cardiology lab from the ground up. Our step-dad was an electrician and we all helped in our own way to get the business going. I was so proud of my mother and visited her everyday after class. It made me so happy to see her living her dream and giving back to the community. She was always struggling to make ends meet but in the entryway, to the office, she had a large framed sign that read, “Regardless of your ability to pay, we will take care of you.” Her courage, sacrifice and compassion inspired me and does to this day.
She and I always shared food. I don’t particularly recall her being a “foodie,” However, being a health professional she was always cooking us fresh meals. I LOVE food and she knew that. She made me a pre-lunch sandwich which all my friends were envious of. In the kitchen, I’d ask her why put oil in the pan first, or what food is good for muscle or basically a series of unending but why’s,? When I was a senior, we bought our first smoker for ribs. I think she was tired of taking me to Applebees for their endless riblet basket. We started with beer-can-chicken moving our way toward making the most delicious baby backs ribs and creating a lifetime obsession with meat and fire.
At the same time, I had also learned to start my own first business. Friends and I played Diablo, WarCraft, StarCraft when we were younger, I spent my junior year summer playing video games, going to football two-a-day practices and going to the lake. Lucky for me, I met a guy from Canada online who was able to duplicate items in the game like rings, swords or armor. I figured we could sell them if we made it easy enough. Surprisingly, kids in South Korea will pay cash for items in a video game so we set up an account on ebay and I was making a hundred to two hundred a day, in between football practice. By the end of the summer, I had around $3500. For a teenager who witnessed the most important person in his life struggle financially to provide for us, it was an amazing feeling to be able to create a business like she did. She and I split the $2000, for my brother’s first car. Before school started senior year, I drove to Vegas to stay with a friend for a week and spent it all. It was a mind blowing experience that opened my eyes to the opportunities and things happening outside of my beloved but small town.
College started the next year. I bought froze and transported 200 of my favorite green chile burrito from my hometown legendary spot. I loved food but still didn’t really have any ability to cook. The first few years of college I lived on Mexican food and teriyaki chicken. Life was going well. I was an average student in college but having a great time studying business and partying.
One morning, I woke to a call from my little brother who was hysterical saying mom shot herself. My step-dad came on the line and said you need to come home now. I drove 187 miles at 95 mph to find that she was gone. Since I could remember, she was always hiding extreme pain from a chronic debilitating back disease. She had five back surgeries and this 5th one was looking to hopefully be the last. She worked 18 hour days in so much pain she could barely stand. When she would get home, she could barely walk to the door. We’d meet her and carry in her bags. It was hard for us to see her in such pain but I can’t imagine how difficult everyday was for her.
I was rear ended in a random car accident on August 14th. I called home to tell her and that was the last time we spoke. I could tell she was really suffering. My biggest regret in life is not going home that moment. I told her that I loved her and she said that she loved me. On August 15th, our step-father left the house in the early morning to go to UPS to get a package of pain killer. Alone, in her pain and drug induced state, she found her .38 and took her own life.
Adam and I were in shock, devastated and lost without her. I left town and moved to Texas for a year. The following May, I took up an invite from a friend to come up to work at the BoulderBolder to get away from things. The event was cool and such a large scale, I had fun. The folks in charge asked me to come back. I continued to work for the rest of the summer until time came to go back to school in August. I couldn’t go back and wasn’t ready to deal with losing her so I stayed. I was promoted to concession supervisor and learned what it takes to serve 50,000 hungry and thirsty people for CU Buff games. I poured myself into the job while applying some of the accounting and other things learned in business school. We installed the first WIFI in the field house on CU Campus for wireless terminals and also brought the first craft beer, fat tire, into Folsom Field. It was an incredible experience and I learned how large scale event management is done. Our counterparts at the Bronco stadium heard I was savvy with the POS technology and so started working Bronco games to help keep the network operational. It was mind blowing to be enjoying myself in a suite at the Bronco’s game because I understood MAC addresses, IP numbers and computer networking basics. We worked the DNC in 2008. I was in charge of one of the club levels and I remember making a drink for someone and then looking up to see President Obama standing there. For a guy from a small-town in New Mexico with 50,000 residents, I was emboldened and completely distracted from PTSD of losing my mother. It was perfect.
Seasonal changes in business created the need to find other work. While myself, my boss and colleagues were on a tour of the St Julien Hotel & Spa, I met who was going to be my next boss and teacher. I was still a student so I brought a pad and pen on the tour. I was taking notes furiously learning hundreds of new things I didn’t even realize. I’m not sure how it all went down but I was fired one day and then hired a few days later as a Restaurant Supervisor at St Julien. I told my boss that I had never actually worked in a restaurant but had supervised hundreds of catering events. He gave me a copy of Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. He said, “read that and never repeat what you just said.” I took a drug test on Friday and started Monday. From there on I learned what hospitality truly is and how brutally consistent you must be. Each day, my boss would walk through the restaurant looking for a fork out of place, a napkin with a sloppy fold, a smudge on a wine glass and every other possible iteration of Murphy’s Law. It was a lot of pressure, in a different way and I loved it because the food was phenomenal. Being around such amazing chefs, cooks and hospitality people was transformative for me. I watched everyone cooking intently so much so that I would often get into hot water with my boss for spending too much time in the kitchen instead of on the floor. I watched and watched and asked questions under the auspices of learning how to ensure the dish is prepared properly for each guest when in reality I was learning because I loved food and want to be able to do what they do one day.
Everything wasn’t easy. It was a very challenging environment with people at the top of their game. I’ll never forget the Executive Chef said he didn’t want to hire me because I wasn’t a restaurant guy. He was right and despite being able to talk P&L with him, he saw right through me. One day he gave me a full pan of raw shrimp. I had never cooked shrimp and didn’t know that they shouldn’t be blue. Regardless I was a hustler and ran them to the Sunday Brunch buffet. My boss grabbed me by the collar so fast I almost went horizontal in the air but didn’t drop the shrimp. He quietly said to go work on something else saving me from the embarrassment.
I grew quickly opening the restaurant at 5:30 am everyday and still having fun living in Boulder minutes from Pearl St.. I met some celebrities like Will Ferrell, Joe Rogan, Jane Fonda, Cal Ripken and others which was cool. I learned restaurant culture, hospitality, food, wine and most importantly confidence in myself to able to hold my own in this industry of very talented, driven and smart people.
These two experiences, working at CU and at St Julien, would prove to be perfect catalyst for a future endeavor I’d never dream I would be doing.
Late in 2009, I was laid off from St Julien after the financial crisis and major cutbacks at the Hotel. I knew my mother most wanted me to graduate from college so I decided to return to New Mexico and finish out my degree. As an older student with work experience, I studied finance and was a much better student. I worked four jobs which were the school newspaper business manager, newspaper delivery person, laborer at a garage door company, and served tables in a small town called Mesilla. I was part of a few campus group, on in particular was the Financial Management Association. We travelled to New York to compete against other colleges in financial theory and placed 5th. It was truly emboldening experience. After that, I found myself competing in another competition but this time, this one was something I could not live without. It was an “Iron Chef” style event at New Mexico State Universities campus cafeteria. We would be given one ingredient to create our menu and would be serving it to 400 or so students. I have probably seen every single iron chef episode on the food network so I had to give it a shot. We did three courses that screamed of fine dining and my prior experience with the sensibilities of a small town country boy from New Mexico. The secret ingredient was potato. We did a smoked cheddar guinness potato soup with pulled pork, green chile shepards pie and a deconstructed apple crisp with marscapone and parmesan crisp. We won the competition hands down and I felt so much confidence to cook although I never considered it a career.
After watching my mother’s hardship and struggle financially, I was dead set on being a millionaire by 30 or at least delusional enough to believe I would get there working for someone else. So, I set my sights on what I thought was my best opportunity and that was Vanguard Investment company. I gave up a lot, changed who I was and chased after what I thought was my path. At the time, I was extremely proud and I still am of my time working in the investment industry. The education we received at NMSU was top notch and I was lucky enough to benefit from that passing my stock broker exams of 300+ questions and only answering four wrong. I was very good at explaining investments to folks and helping them to gain the understanding they need to make the best decision for them. It was a very rewarding experience to be able to help so many people with their money. I did well at Vanguard and was promoted top 3 of 700 folks and tasked with starting a new high-net worth division with a handful of others. I was living the dream or so I thought until May 29th, 2012.
The last thing that I remember is giving my then girlfriend a kiss and walking out the door. I remember the steam of the shower, the cool of the air conditioning and then the Phoenix heat as I walked outside. That morning I was riding my Harley to work doing about 50mph when a young lady who wasn’t wearing her contacts pulled in front of me. We hit each other head on and I flew 40 feet down the road. I broke a rib, punctured a lung, blew my knees and shoulders as well as a lot of road rash. The worst was the head trauma. I spent the next three days going in an out of consciousness asking who I was and what happened. My girlfriend at the time stayed with me in the hospital until the 3rd day when my phone rang. We were both asleep but it woke me up and I answered it. She slapped the phone and yelled my name at me as if she was asking a questions. I didn’t really understand what was going on but was in a lot of pain. For the next several months I was out of work and in rehab to be able to walk and use my shoulders. It was a devastating experience but the worst part wasn’t the physical injuries but the traumatic brain injury affects that are with me today. I was absolutely terrified of riding in cars. I experienced a lot of anxiety, fear and anger afterwards but didn’t allow myself to have those feelings. For the next few years, I found it harder and harder to remember myself, daily things and would have many overwhelming feelings of sadness, anger and loss. I tried to continue down the path of investments working toward earning a CFA charter but found what came naturally to be before, extremely difficult. I was lost, scared and without many families – I didn’t want to be alone. My then girlfriend and I became more serious at the same time, I should have been taking things much slower. We were both driven with goals and ambitions but without much support or advice. We dated for about a year and then got engaged. Her parents hated me and never wanted their daughter with someone like me so despite our best efforts, she was constantly being manipulated and pulled in different directions. We both supported each other to take our careers in a direction we were happy with. I moved toward investment sales and quit Vanguard. I basically went from being a shepherd helping folks with their retirement to being a wolf. I hated it but loved the paycheck, food, nice clothes and fun events. I was being pulled in two different directions. The one I was going, which I knew wasn’t for me and the one I wanted to be on but didn’t know where it started.
The pressure and cognitive dissonance accumulating was extremely hard on me. I felt depressed and hated my job but felt stuck. We decided that a change of scenery would be nice. I interviewed with Blackrock in San Francisco and a few companies in Denver. I didn’t receive and offer from Blackrock so we moved to Denver. On my first day of work, I received a call from the same woman who was now my wife with surprise news that she was pregnant. I’m hundreds of miles away from her on my first day of work and really couldn’t have been happier.
The pressure of work and then raising our child became too much for me. I was constantly trying to cope with the TBI and mental effects of the motorcycle wreck. I would feel angry outbursts and have a difficult time dealing with life. I felt safe with my wife to let her know how I felt. I felt absolutely terrible and that came out in a way that was me yelling or saying hurtful things. She was supportive and really a strong person but after having our child and dealing with post-pardum depression, her manipulative mother was able to convince her to work with attorneys to divorce me and take our child to California. After spending $120,000 and bankrupting me, she won full custody and was granted permission to take our daughter to California with specific parenting plan requirements so onerous it is impossible to be part of her life. We spent our last day together in Colorado in July of 2017. I visited her in August of 2017 and since then we have not seen each other.
We started the food truck construction in July 0f 2016 but unfortunately began working with a criminal who became notorious for ripping other people off and has been on the news as well as being barred from building food trucks in certain counties. I visited his shop every week to check on the progress but nothing was happening. After almost a year, the truck was nearly complete. I came in to surprise them and check on the truck only to find it covered in a wrap for a different business. Apparently, the truck builder sold my truck to a guy in Kansas for $20k more. The gentlemen from Kansas was extremely upset and insisted he was taking the truck. I wasn’t sure really what to do and so found ourselves back at square one, 11 months later. We worked consulted an attorney on what to do. We didn’t have much options other than to sue him. I was also going through the aforementioned divorce at this sametime. I couldn’t pay my divorce attorney because we were expecting a food truck 45 days after we paid back in July of 2016. It was a terrible situation. I spent considerable more time there pressuring them to provide me with a truck. At one point I needed money to pay the retainer for my attorney and went down to his shop and made him empty his pockets out, getting $2000 of my money back. After that and my increasing presence and willingness to do whatever it took, they provided us with a truck in July of 2017.
We sanded and painted it in 36 hours then hit the streets. I poured myself, my heartache and pain into this job. I worked 18-22 hour days for two years. We grew revenue 100% month over month from July into the winter of 2017. In 2018, my experience at the St Julien and CU Boulder started to really kick in. We were able to garner a lot of buzz around town and were blowing people away with the food. Early 2018 we were voted #3 Best Food Truck in Denver. Later that year, we entered a taco competition that a lot of the best restaurants and select food trucks compete in. We entered the competition expecting to gain some exposure and maybe land a few catering events but walked away with the People’s Champion award for best traditional taco. Since then, we have been awarded with Best Food Truck in Denver 2019 by Westword Magazine. Much of that, I believe, is attributed to dreaming what I want to do and then leveraging past experience and my mothers tenacious spirit to make it happen. We started producing 4-5 course beer dinners at some local breweries, in-room dining experiences at downtown luxury apartments and are now working on other ways to redefine “food trucks” by forming an association of local food truck owners and operators so that we can work together to grow our industry.
I started Eat Mile High in practice in the fall of 2017 by helping local office buildings schedule food trucks. We were very consistent and provided great food so folks loved us. I had a natural tendency to the network after working in investment sales so quickly met a lot of food truck owners. We’ve used to the success of Adobo to help grow the community and create opportunities for other trucks whether new or old. We curate large food truck events and also operate 5-8 different food truck lunch sites around town with curated schedules for large employers and property managers. Other food truck brokers are based out of state and overcharge the guest by 30% while taking 15% of the truck’s revenue. Our goal is to take that 45%, give you 30% back and let the food truck keep as much of the revenue as possible. We’re developing a mobile app that allows customers to order and be notified when their food is ready as well to locate food trucks around town by schedule or location. We’ve grown to the largest owner operated food truck association in Colorado with over 75+ trucks in our group. We’ve developed a website as well for trucks and patrons to use to connect to each other.
Everyday I work from 8 am to 1 am or 2 am in the morning because I am desperate to be a father to our daughter. Each time I come up with something new, I’m putting everything I can into it hoping that it will be the taco or rice bowl that is good enough to get me to her.
Adobo and Eat Mile High have also given us opportunities to give back. This summer we sponsored the kids lunches for a local summer financial literacy camp for 10-11 year olds. The truck community through Eat Mile High produced and delivered 265 box lunches for kids at local libraries.
The food truck community in Denver is unique and we are working very hard to create an industry where we can create our own opportunities to work with other local entrepreneurs to create amazing experiences for our patrons.
My past work experiences, lessons from my mothers and love for food are my bridge to my daughter. We could win every award and continue to have the best tacos in Denver but for me, all I care about is being there for my daughter.
Has it been a smooth road?
It has been very difficult.
Losing relationship with my daughter/Parental Alienation
Criminal Food Truck Builder
Kitchen Commissary struggles. Denver’s Kitchen Commissary market is greatly underserved. We started at a commissary in Denver. The kitchen was so filthy we had thousands of dollars in equipment and product trashed because of mice feces and urine. After notifying the health department, we were given a 30 day notice to leave from the commissary. The day after getting a 30 day notice, the health department called me at 7 am to ask for my new commissary letter even though I have 30 days before leaving my current commisary. It was a clear retaliation and caused us to work without a commissary from May to July, in a friends restaurant overnight. That was extremely difficult. During that time, someone called the health department on us claiming that we were working without a commissary. The Health Department person called us to investigate. I asked them to quickly google us. They said this sounded weird since we were a popular truck around town. I explained the situation of malicious food truck owners and she said that makes a lot more sense. I was consistently harassed by another taco food truck owner to the point of having to call the police on the guy because he threatened to slice my throat and put me in the ground. We’ll post that video on instagram soon. It’s hilarious because I close my eye and dare him to do it.
Staffing is difficult.
The food truck user market regards us as an amenity without consideration for our business solvency or the fact that most people will only go to an event if there is food. Most events are designed to be a money grab from the vendors and customers these days. They charge the vendors a very high flat rate or ask them to provide a lot of free food regardless of the outcome and also charge the customer. They make money on both ends while bringing to the table a permit and some marketing. Most event producers, farmers markets, flea markets or others events take 15 to 40% of our gross revenue. Event’s don’t exist without food. Alcohol should not be served without food. Most good breweries to serve food are run by folks who don’t care about the quality but rather the ability to dictate your business without paying. As far as we may come as an industry, we have a long way to go.
The Central Business District, Golden Triangle, Arapahoe Square and Civic Zones are a large area downtown. The CBD was originally formed by LOCAL restaurants to keep national brands out. Today, it has been manipulated to not allow any local food trucks. The other zones are urban redevelopment or other zoning practices which create a monopoly and does not allow any food trucks to earn a living downtown. Eat Mile High is working hard to create this dialogue to provide awareness and education for the general public so they can help us find a fair balance.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
Adobo Food Truck is Denver’s Latin-Asian Food Truck creating the most delicious tacos, rice bowls and other street food. We also cater weddings and other events where we specialize in refined Mexican and Filipino dishes. We are known for our filipino chicken adobo bowl which is based upon my grandmother’s recipe, our smoked carnitas taco which won TOP TACO in 2018 and our green chile cheese fries which are a festival favorite.
I am most proud of being self-employed for the last three years.
I believe what sets us apart is my experience, motivation and passion for food. I have ten years of restaurant management experience in the front of house manager talking with guests ensuring they have a good experience. After three years of cooking for a living, I am confident I have what it takes but a lot to learn as a cook. As a business owner, I have a degree in finance and innately know which move is the right one. I may make mistakes but when It comes to big business decisions, I rely on my education.
When it comes to hunger and tenacious persistence, I outwork most so that one day, I’ll be there for my daughter. I love her more than anything in this world and would do anything to be there for her.