Tayo Waugh, chef and owner of SO Truck, is easing back into business as coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted at area breweries and wineries.
Ventura County Star
Tayo Waugh, chef and owner of the SO Truck food truck, had already eased back into making ramen, bao-bun tacos and fried chicken sandwiches with queso and jalapeños at Topa Topa Brewing Co. in Ventura when he got a call from the owner of a local bar.
Would Waugh and his truck be available to serve food in the bar’s parking lot, making it possible for the business to reopen its doors to sit-down customers?
Alas, Waugh would not. But he gave the bar owner the names of other food-truck operators who might be able to help.
The problem? “There are a lot more bars looking to open their doors right now than there are food trucks,” said Waugh.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
The Luau Bao Taco from SO Truck features slow-cooked pork shoulder topped with chimichurri, charred pineapple and microgreens. (Photo: LISA MCKINNON/THE STAR)
For now, at least, the situation is a boon for Ventura County-based food trucks, which are back in demand after sitting idle for the past few months due to pandemic-related business closures and event cancellations.
Helping them get back in gear is a Ventura County Public Health Department order that requires bars, wineries and breweries, which often don’t have kitchens of their own, as well as restaurants to sell food to go with cocktails, wine and/or beer served for on-site consumption.
The local order took effect on May 21 and, while modified, remains in place more than a month later. It differs from state-level guidelines that omitted the food-service requirement when they took effect on June 12 — leading one Ventura County winery to mistakenly send out an anticipatory “the purchase of food is not required” re-opening email to patrons on the night of June 11.
“There has absolutely been a rush of breweries and wineries that have reached out to book me,” said Julius Shaifer, who launched his Shaifer’s Kitchen food trailer late last year before being “shut down completely” for two months because of COVID-19.
Julius Shaifer is the owner of the Shaifer’s Kitchen food truck. (Photo: LISA MCKINNON/THE STAR)
Specializing in what he calls a “lazy beach cuisine” menu of street tacos, local-catch seafood baskets and tri-tip sandwiches, Shaifer has since committed to regular appearances from 1 to 9 p.m. Saturdays at Leashless Brewing and from 2 to 7 p.m. most Sundays at Concrete Jungle Brewing Project. His late-June schedule also includes noon to 8 p.m. Mondays at Ventura Coast Brewing Co. and occasional stops at Poseidon Brewing Co. (All are in Ventura. Check the truck’s online calendar for updates: http://www.shaiferskitchen.com).
In Camarillo, Mike Brown and Chris Brown, the husband-and-wife owners of Cantara Cellars and Flat Fish Brewing Co., are taking a hybrid approach to the food-service requirement.
The combination winery, brewery and micro-distillery has a small kitchen on site for the sale and/or preparation of cheese plates. A pre-made plate for one person ($5) is a new menu option. A more elaborate version suitable for three or more people ($20) can be made to order.
But cheese-plate service is discontinued whenever a food truck is on the premises.
“I want them to be successful, too,” Chris Brown said of the trucks she books on weekends, when there are more people in and around the tasting room. Trucks on the regular rotation include Crazy Greek, Mamma Italy and Cowboy John’s Smoken BBQ.
The winery/brewery is open from 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 3 to 9 p.m. Fridays, 1 to 9 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays. An exception is the Fourth of July, when hours will be from 1 to 4 p.m. (126 N. Wood Road, https://cantaracellars.com, https://flatfishbrewing.com).
Waugh also offers a $5 menu option during SO Truck’s regularly scheduled appearances at Topa Topa Brewing Co.‘s two Ventura locations.
Available through the purchase of a voucher at the brewery’s host station, the featured dish might be an order of potato croquettes with Ibérico ham and black garlic and squid ink aioli one day and a slow-cooked pork shoulder bao-bun taco with chimichurri and charred pineapple the next. (The truck’s full menu is also available, with dishes typically ranging in price from $9 to $12.50.)
“It’s not just forcing people to buy food if they want to drink alcohol,” Waugh said, repeating a common complaint about the guideline. “It’s about helping restart the economy after everything being completely shut down.
“For me, it’s about shopping at mom and pop grocery stores for specialty items. It’s about the Restaurant Depots and Costcos bringing in more potatoes from the San Joaquin Valley, and other supplies. This recovery is much bigger than buying a $5 snack.”
Waugh trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago and was working at a fine-dining restaurant in the Windy City when the 2014 movie “Chef” inspired him to take his culinary act on the road in his home state, California.
He set a course for Ventura County after visiting Ojai to celebrate Valentine’s Day — and to briefly escape another Illinois winter — with his girlfriend. The region made such an impression on Waugh that he asked a muralist friend to use colors seen in Ventura’s coastal sunsets for the hand-painted design on the truck, which launched in 2017.
Before COVID-19, the hardest part about owning a food truck was creating a sustainable schedule, said Waugh, who got into baking bread at home during the two and a half months it was off the road.
“People ask how I’m doing, and the answer is: ‘Currently, I’m doing OK, but come back in three months and ask me again’,” Waugh said. “But it’s not just about me, or about food trucks.
“I’d encourage people to go out and spend money at their favorite restaurant, and then at another place they’ve never tried before,” he added. “Let’s share some positivity in the tumultuous times we’re living in.”
SO Truck is at Topa Topa Brewing Co.’s headquarters at 4880 Colt St. from noon to 9 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and at the brewery’s taproom at 104 E. Thompson Blvd. from noon to 9 p.m. Fridays. For updates, check the truck’s Instagram and Facebook pages.
Takin’ it to the streets
Five city blocks in downtown Ventura are temporarily closed to traffic now through mid-July, creating a pedestrian- and- bicyclist-only zone designed to give restaurants and other businesses in the area room to breathe — literally and figuratively — as they resume operations under coronavirus-era guidelines.
But thanks to public outcry, an additional block that was excluded from the June 16 launch of Main Street Moves may join the economic-recovery project early next week.
MORE: Ventura’s Main Street program leaves four blocks open only to pedestrians
“I don’t think anyone realized just how persistent I can be,” said Joseph “Jo Jo’ Morales Ramirez, whose business, Capriccio Inc., is one of six restaurants in the 200 block of East Main Street — a stretch of pavement that starts just outside the event’s protective traffic barricades at Main and Palm streets.
Also left out of the action are El Rey Cantina, Taqueria Vallarta, Maria Bonita, Paradise Pantry and Peirano’s Market & Delicatessen. All are currently open for business. Capriccio and El Rey already have a few tables on the sidewalk, while Peirano’s features a permanent outdoor patio on the Figueroa Plaza side of the building. Paradise Pantry is sticking with takeout for the time being.
Morales Ramirez said he learned the 200 block was originally excluded from Main Street Moves due to public-safety concerns by fire and police officials over access to the area in case of an emergency. Those concerns are being addressed with help from City Manager Alex McIntyre, Morales Ramirez added.
Organized by Downtown Ventura Partners, a business association of neighborhood merchants, and approved by the City Council, Main Street Moves currently includes the 300-600 blocks of East Main Street and the 100 block of South California Street. A portion of the 100 block of North California Street is also closed to accommodate a stage for live music.
Participating restaurants have created temporary dining areas that range from the simple (like the handful of tables arranged in a socially-distant pattern in the parking spaces in front of Nature’s Grill & Juice Bar) to the elaborate (like the elevated platform furnished with white umbrellas and drapery at Casa Bella).
Immigrant Son Caffé, which debuted as a breakfast-and-lunch spot in January, is using its indoor/outdoor dining areas to launch a new tapas menu featuring dishes like gnocchi pomodoro and Impossible Foods lettuce wraps. It’s in effect from 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.
For more about Main Street Moves, click on https://downtownventura.org.
Changing of the guard
Paul Jones, founding beverage director for the farm-to-glass cocktail lounge Oak & Iron in Thousand Oaks, is on the move.
Jones, who studied with Los Angeles-based “Eat Your Drink” mixologist Matthew Biancaniello, is overseeing the new craft-cocktail program at Decker Kitchen, which opened in Westlake Village in 2018 and this week launched an after-dinner menu of small bites and adult beverages (including tiki drinks) available Thursdays through Saturdays. Call for hours (4661 Lakeview Canyon Road, 818-735-9577, https://www.deckerkitchen.com).
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At Oak & Iron, meanwhile, a new menu is coming soon to go with the summer hours took that took effect June 25. They are from 4 to 10 p.m. Sundays through Wednesdays, 4 to 11 p.m. Thursdays and 4 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays (2967 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., 805-630-1638, https://oakandironto.com).
Gary Daniel, opening chef for The Cave at Ventura Wine Co. when the wine bar’s kitchen debuted in 2008, is back.
Known for mentoring dozens of young chefs during his original, four-year run at The Cave, Daniel is returning after stints as executive chef at Watermark on Main in downtown Ventura and chef de cuisine at Mediterraneo in Westlake Village. His first task has been reassembling a culinary team as The Cave gradually resumes food service under coronavirus-era guidelines.
Current hours for takeout and limited-seating dine-in service are from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and noon to 8 p.m. Saturdays.
The on-site wine store is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays (4435 McGrath St., Suite 301, 805-642-9449, https://thecaveventura.com).
You wear it well
Open since late January, the Farmer Boys restaurant in Newbury Park has helped keep patrons fed throughout the coronavirus crisis by offering carryout, phone-ahead orders, drive-thru service and, more recently, the addition of limited dine-in seating.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Farmer Boys restaurant chain plants seed with first Ventura County location
Now the Riverside-based chain is giving diners a wearable way to help combat hunger and food insecurity.
All profits from the sale of Farmer Boy T-shirts printed with the slogan “Do Good. Be Well. Be a Farmer” will go to Feeding America, a hunger-relief organization that works with a network of local food banks and the COVID-19 Response Fund.
The T-shirts ($21.99) are available for a limited time by clicking on https://farmerboysshop.com.
Farmer Boys in Newbury Park is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays (1057 Academy Drive, 805-480-0500, https://www.farmerboys.com).
The Ojai Valley Lavender Festival rescheduled from June 27 to Oct. 24 has since been canceled until further notice, according to an update on the event’s website (https://ojaivalleylavenderfestival.org).
The 10th annual From Field to Fork dinner scheduled for July 16 as a benefit for House Farm Workers! has been canceled. “The pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of the farm worker population, and made clear how critical our work is,” reads an email urging supporters to donate to the cause. The event is expected to return in July 2021 (https://housefarmworkers.org).
Open, shut and in between
In case you missed it, the Open and Shut column published in the June 13 Business section of the Star included information about plans to open a second Black Bear Diner in Ventura County.
MORE: Black Bear Diner plans second Ventura County location
Also featured: the opening of Niu Boiling Seafood in Oxnard, the partial reopening of Marie’s Cafe in Simi Valley and The Cave in Ventura, and the coming-soon status of Peebee & Jay’s in Newbury Park, of Armando’s Tacos and Leone’s Original Italian Ices in Thousand Oaks and of Rocks & Drams in downtown Ventura.
To read it, click on https://bit.ly/2VccgAY.
Lisa McKinnon is a staff writer for The Star. To contact her, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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