Monthly Archives: April 2009

Taco Journalism – Cabot Nelson Interview – Part 2

When we left you last time in Part 1, Cabot Nelson (a former hot dog stand owner and current taco enthousiast) and Kelly were sitting down to some delicious Mexican food at Taqueria Lolita. This is the dramatic conclusion of that particular conversation…

Kelly : Can you tell us more about the hot dog cart you ran with your father?

Cabot : We started in March of 2002. We were hopeful that business would pick up, and we did well during events near Washington Square like the Gay Pride Parade. All in all, the price per unit for hot dogs was higher than tacos. It was difficult to be profitable with little traffic. And let’s face it – tacos are much tastier than hot dogs.

K : Cabot, you also have education in Urban Planning is that correct?

C : Yes. Lately we were discussing the “Death and Life of Great American Cities” by Jane Jacobs. That is part of the canon of city planning.

This is the great book Cabot and I were talking about.  It will change the way you think about city streets.

This is the great book Cabot and I were talking about. It will change the way you think about city streets.

K : I love reading how important it is to her to know how a city functions. She says that the function of a city emerges from a city’s streets.

C : When she wrote that, she was simply saying that cities had a life of their own and that the “streets” were not all that bad.

K : What I find interesting is that our interactions on the streets make up the city on a whole. While I’m not sure that Jane Jacobs ever wrote anything about street food specifically, I heard an NPR program recently which explored what she might say about street food vendors. What do you think she would say?

C : She would definitely identify with the street vendors. As the barrier is so low for entry, a population which would normally be dispossessed is empowered to enter into commerce. Then combine that with the response to the homogeneity that they face all the time and we find a happy meeting that occurs at the taco stands. That is remarkable.

K : Earlier we talked a bit about enforcement and regulation. I know that in West Valley City and I believe Salt Lake City as well there are a limited number of permits for street food vendors. Do you agree with controlling the number of permits?

C : I do not agree with capping like this, but rather it is that the city does not have manpower to enforce regulations. Nor do they have the tax dollars for it. I wish that they could do more, but these things take money.

K : Now I wanted to ask you something as someone who has owned a food stand in SLC. People often say to me “I hear those taco carts have no regulations” or “I hear those places aren’t safe to eat at”. Could you comment on that?

C : We were inspected twice and things had to be kept clean. There are rules. The public servants who work at the State Health department down in Murray are great people. I have a lot of respect for them and they work hard to protect the health of the public.

K : I would like to talk about another myth I have heard. Do you believe that the taco stands are inspected any more or less frequently than other establishments like restaurants?

C : No. They’re not visited any more or less frequently than other establishments.

Tomatillos...  Cabots mouth might be watering as we speak thinking about them...

Tomatillos... Cabot's mouth might be watering as we speak thinking about them...

K : So as a taco enthusiast yourself, what is your favorite Mexican dish?

C : I love chili verde. It’s interesting that they have some [recipes] which use tomatillo as its base and others which use corn starch as its base. I love the tomatillo. This has been a very telling instruction to me over the past ten years about the demographic differences between different supermarkets. Ten years ago when I lived there the Smith’s in Sugarhouse had a little bin of maybe a few choices of tomatillo. But then I would visit another Smith’s in the west side of the city around 900 West…

K : A different story..

C : BAM!!! They got tomatillos! A big bin of them. Why? Because people take them and puree them and make incredible savory dishes! Oh, it makes me hungry just thinking about it… Mmmmmm…

K : Well one of the other things we wanted to do with and we have had some success with on the Myspace group is to start taco flash mobs. On some random morning, the idea is to blast out emails or text messages giving instructions to show up to a certain time at a certain taco stand. We eat for 30 minutes, there’s a sense of instantaneous community and then we disperse.

C : That’s another thing that I wanted to talk about was community. I would love it if the website could also help to form a community for taco stand owners. They could communicate about regulations and issues and organize themselves. They could also introduce a special interest group to represent them as a whole in each one of the cities.

K : Yes. This kind of thing has happened in LA.

C : Yes! It just needs to be kicked up in Salt Lake! And I assure you great things could come from that. You’re a step ahead by having the website. But with all due respect to ourselves, we’re just commentators in what’s happening.

[Our nice senora stops by and asks us if anyone needs a box…]

Salut Galarneau.  Its about a mans noble duty running a hot dog stand.  I have no idea if there is an English translation.

Salut Galarneau. It's about a man's noble duty running a hot dog stand. I have no idea if there is an English translation of the book.

K : Cabot, before we leave I wanted to ask you something. There’s a book that I read for French literature class. It’s called “Salut, Galarneau” and it’s about a fictional man in Montreal who operates a hot dog stand. It’s a fascinating read and it’s about the people he meets on the street. In the end of the book the conclusion is that being a hot dog stand owner is a NOBLE DUTY. He says that a food stand owner provides two things. The first is food and the second is a place on the street with real, honest human interaction. Do you agree with this that being a stand owner is a noble duty?

C : Absolutely. Absolutely. A noble duty. I like the way you put that. I was saying earlier that meeting other people occurs through commerce. To me this is a beautiful way of saying it.

Taco Journalism – Interview with a former hot dog stand owner and current taco enthusiast

This is not a picture of Cabots hot dog cart.  It is merely a dramatization.

This is not a picture of Cabot's hot dog cart. It is merely a dramatization.

Cabot Nelson is a fascinating person whose knowledge must be described as nothing less than encyclopedic. Cabot holds a degree as an Urban Planner and like myself he is fascinated about the way that cities work. In 2002-2003 he ran a hot dog stand with his father which was never intended as something to make a lot of money but more as a project. As Cabot puts it, “the adventure didn’t quite succeed”. He explained that one of the reasons for this was the choice of location which was too far away from trafficked areas. So without foot traffic and parking, it was extremely difficult to remain profitable. As a fellow taco enthusiast, Cabot suggested Taqueria Lolita on 900 S 300 W so we could eat some delicious food while talking about taco stands, regulations and the benefits of street interactions in a city…

Kelly : So Cabot, we were talking about the street taco stand in Liberty Park, is it against the law to have any kind of food vendor in a park in SLC?

Cabot : Any kind of vendor is against the law. For instance, there is a special events permit like the kind they have a few times a year. When I had the [hot dog] cart in 2003, the sidewalk vendor ordinance had been in place I think since 92. As far as I know, the law has not changed since then. As far as I know, the carts are off limits for the parks. Anyone who shows up in a park selling is most likely rogue.

K : And that includes selling food and non-food items?

C: Yes

K: Sometimes I have seen people in the park selling things like glass roses and I have wondered, “Are they allowed to be there or not?”

C : There are some exceptions which come about during the Anderson administration regarding the street performance arts which is kind of a first amendment issue of an expression. And that includes art that they create there. That’s the reason why the south end of the Farmer’s Market in the Pioneer Park is occupied by a few of these artists. They can be there by law. They can get one of these permits for free.  This is the way they get around itt.

K : Well that makes sense. That explains why I’m not seeing a taco cart in Liberty Park anymore. That’s the second time I’ve seen one disappear. When I talked to owner of the most recent cart there, he said he had bought the cart from a previous senora who sold it to him because she didn’t have the time. Now I wonder if he understood the licensing and the laws about food vending in SLC parks.

C : Yes, the licensing requirements are very serious about this. If it’s going to be on a public property, namely on sidewalks they still have to have 4 foot clearance for pedestrians or 8 feet total including the stand. This is why the stuff can work at Sears. There’s plenty of room for pedestrian traffic. Also carts cannot be within 100 feet from each other unless it’s around the corner. When I was operating the hot dog stand, the boundary was South Temple to 900 S and I think 300 W to 900 E. I had to work within those boundaries. They did start allowing some carts in Sugarhouse. That’s the reason Cebollitas had a cart there.

K : I live by there and I love that place. I never knew for sure why it disappeared!

C : Well, it’s mainly due to the disappearance of Sugarhouse Coffee. Also, they don’t allow stands across the street from Temple Square. Other restrictions include that they must have a commissary where you park your cart at night. This has to be a place where you can break your cart down at night and your food has to be stored and cooked at proper temperatures and that is what these commissaries provide. The commissary that I went to was A & J foods. Anyone operating a cart must have a food handler’s permit from the county in Murray. The cart also needs to be inspected by a fire marshal who needs to see that you have a fire extinguisher there since there is propane. Oh… I should also mention that I had to provide a sketch of the cart to make sure it looked OK.

K : Hahaha!!! Really? Just to make sure that it was aesthetically pleasing, or…

C : Yes, but they’re very broad about that? They just want to make sure that it’s nothing egregious. But consequently, you’ve got something where the barrier is rather low for entry. So people are willing to get in and try it. Cities, I think, are one of the greatest inventions of mankind. What makes a city great are the interactions. And most interactions between people occur through commerce. And what better way than have something like a taco cart?

K : Yes. That’s definitely one of the things I wanted to spend time talking about. Street food in general I wanted to talk about what it offers to a city and what kinds of needs it serves. Maybe we could talk about that in a moment?

C : Sure…

[At this moment, a nice woman brings our tacos to the table….]

We will continue with the second half of the interview with Cabot next week.  In the meantime go eat some tacos in the beautiful Salt Lake sunshine!

Korean tacos and taco flash mobs in the news

Taco enthousiasts gather around one of Los Angeles Kogi BBQ taco trucks

Taco enthousiasts gather around one of Los Angeles' Kogi BBQ taco trucks

I have been waiting for this moment. I have seen it in my mind. I’m fairly certain that there have been entire books of scripture dedicated to this moment but until now they could not be understood. What am I talking about?


Before we talk about this, or explain what a flash mob is we must first talk about Korean tacos.  This is no typo.  I’m talking about a new taco craze which has taken Los Angeles by storm.  Roy Choi is the head chef of Kogi BBQ, which is a taco truck which explores Korean flavors within the space of Mexican cuisine.

Korean BBQ tacos? Why is Los Angeles so far???

This sounds like a delicious idea and I would love to try it, but to me the really interesting part of Kogi is how they do business.  They actually use online social networks like Twitter to blast locations where the taco cart will appear next.  Whether you hate Twitter or not, it’s a genius use for it to create a fun exciting and ever-changing food experience.  Their are constantly quick messages broadcasting the next destination of the truck such as :

ROJA: 9PM-2AM@The Golden Gopher – 417 W. 8th St in Downtown LA

VERDE: 3PM-5:30PM@SMC – Pearl in between 19th and 20th inside the Campus; 6PM-8PM@UCLA – Gayley & Strathmore;

UCLA location for today will be Gayley and Strathmore. Hopefully, someone will be kind enough to save us some parking at the corner. ~_^

Now some of you out there know from the Myspace SLC Tacos page that for over 5+ years it’s been my dream to get taco flash mobs happening in Salt Lake City.  What’s a flash mob?  Click here.

The success of the Kogi taco carts to create such a fan base with such a (literal) following gets me a little bit giddy.

What do you guys think?  Are we ready to start some taco flash mobs in Salt Lake?  Get hundreds of us to descend on 800 S and State with a few hours notice and eat as many tacos as we can possibly stomach?

I’m curious to hear what you think.

The Kogi BBQ taco trucks have received a lot of press lately in such places as Newsweek and NPR.  Read more from these links :

NEWSWEEK : Thanks to Twitter, America’s First Viral Eatery

NPR : Tweeting food truck draws LA’s hungry crowds

Meanwhile, I’m finishing transcribing audio from an interview with one of the most interesting people Salt Lake has to offer.  He is a taco enthousiast who has owned a street food stand in SLC and he has some interesting things to say about tacos in Salt Lake and their flash mob potential.  Look for that this weekend of early next week.