Photo (Ana Vela): Amanecer Taco Shop Founder Ana Vela, with the Smart Car food truck that launched the business.
Looking for a new breakfast spot to try this weekend? Why not start with a quick breakfast taco, loaded up with all kinds of gooey goodness?
Ana Vela and her husband, Mario, are serving up exactly that at Amanecer Taco Shop.
But just how does tech play a role in their breakfast taco adventures?
With their first storefront location in Evanston still in the works, the husband and wife duo keep their customer base informed via a Smart Car food-tracking app.
But the app isn’t Vela’s first foray into the tech world.
“I used to be really into tech as a publishing technologies manager for National Geographic,” says Vela. “That was a 15-year-long career in product development in educational products.”
Vela and her husband moved to Chicago about seven years ago, and noticed a gaping hole in an entirely different realm—food.
“My husband and I are originally from San Antonio, Texas, and we moved out here for my job [at the time],” says Vela.
“We didn’t know anyone out here […] we kind of came here just to try it out, and one of the first things that we noticed was that the thing we always grew up with our entire lives eating—breakfast tacos—didn’t exist here.”
With no experience in the hospitality industry, the two set out to find the thing they were missing from their morning routine.”
“As we were networking, we would meet other people from Texas or who had lived [there], and so when we would connect about Texas, ironically, the first thing we would connect about was breakfast tacos,” says Vela.
Two years ago, they decided to take it upon themselves and see if there was a market for the thing they were missing the most.
“We kind of just put it out there, and we let people in the market tell us what they wanted to do with the product,” Vela states.
Working out of an incubator kitchen in Evanston helped the couple figure out the best ingredients and recipes for their product.
Vela says after some trial and error, the tacos started to take off.
In order to keep the business growing, the couple decided to use some of Vela’s past experience in tech, and work in conjunction with a Smart Car tracking app to help keep customers informed.
“We did a little customization work on the Smart Car, so that it can have the capacity to hot-hold our food and pass health regulations,” says Vela.
“From there we just started relying on social media and the app to basically let people know where we were at. That’s how technology has really worked for us, just tapping into different networks and people finding us that way.”
With the permanent location opening this August, Vela says the key to growing the business is finding out what the customers really want.
“It’s kind of hard for people to plan their routines around tracking down our food truck.”
With breakfast time being their “sweet spot,” Vela says they needed to find a place that would give their clientele a stable location to rely on.
In addition to the storefront, the business continues to grow in other areas including a great market for wholesale and catering, particularly for business meetings.
“Local coffee shops wanted to start selling our product. They had no hot breakfast items to sell to their customers, so we started expanding wholesale partnership with different companies, and that’s been working out great.”
While the breakfast tacos are garnering a lot of attention, getting people familiar with the concept took some time.
“I think a lot of the obstacles are around getting people take chances on you—having a product that nobody understands … there’s a big education challenge [about breakfast tacos],” Vela says with a laugh.
“[You’re] competing with well-known players in the market, plus being a woman, being a minority—it just keeps adding to the challenge of having people try the product, and take a chance on you.”
But the couple also learned about some great partnerships, taking advantage of Chicago’s growing entrepreneurial scene.
“We’ve luckily have found some amazing partners in Chicago that really strive to work with women and minority-owned businesses. One in particular is 1871.”
With the support of some other entrepreneurial resources, Vela says a big lesson was just learning to adapt.
“As entrepreneurs, our inclination is to be very eager and to tackle things right away, but […] having the flexibility to change your business model as you start getting into the market is important.”
And of course, having a nest egg to get yourself going doesn’t hurt.
“Having enough capital to start gives you the flexibility to not rely on revenue coming in right away. If you can prepare that you might not be making any profit for the first six months to a year, as you’re putting your product out there, [that’s] key,” advises Vela.
“If you’re depending on your profit right away, you put yourself at risk for making decisions based on that versus the best decisions for the future of your business. I would have done that differently.”
But the biggest key when growing your business? According to Vela, it all boils down to maintaining patience.
“Market research is so important, […] and it takes a lot of patience to do that with people pushing to go bigger and get out there more,” says Vela.
“As tempting as that was, if I had done that, I might have gone a route that might not have been as profitable as we are now.”
Amanecer Taco Shop opens next month with a permanent location at 512 Main St. in Evanston, Ill.