How to Dodge Death Delivering Food in Mexico City
Los Loosers, Mexico City's premier only vegan lunch delivery-by-bike service, is providing delicious lunches to a city that is several times the size of NYC. When I had the recent chance to do a ride along on the delivery route, the day was slightly...
Somewhere among the broad avenues, souvenir vendors, and art galleries of Mexico City's Colonia San Rafael is the sparkling-clean kitchen of Los Loosers, Mexico City's only delivery-by-bike vegan lunch service. Launched by longtime friends Ysus Pallares and Mariana Blanco in 2011, it has grown from a two-person-and-one-pizza-oven operation into a thriving business that delivers up to 130 homemade, soy-free orders a day. They've catered to such high-profile clients as Mercedes Benz and American Apparel, and their delivery zone is several times the size of Manhattan. Like many of the people I have met here in Mexico City, Los Loosers' default setting seems to be one of relentless, sincere optimism that doesn't suck.
I first discovered the business when Googling around for places to eat on a recent trip to Distro Federal—a.k.a. D.F. Rife with colorful food porn and adorable delivery boys, their Instagram feed screamed "relevant to my interests." Further Googling revealed extensive coverage in Spanish language publications and hundreds of tweets and "likes" from satisfied customers.
In an effort to see what the Loosers phenomenon was all about, I arranged to join the gang for a morning combination of delicious food and sweaty bike riding. I promised to dock my Ecobici before I slowed them down too much. "We promise to feed you properly," they replied.
Upon arriving, I took off my shoes and put on some Croc-like kitchen clogs, just one of many voluntary precautions the team takes to keep the kitchen free of contaminants. "We try to be really careful," noted Mariana. "Would you like some tea or coffee?" Pictures of human and animal rights activists festooned the walls with a familiar soundtrack blaring through the background: Pulp, The Pixies, Duran Duran, and The Bangles.
As two glowy-skinned cooks formed a fragrant veggie burger mixture into thick patties, Mariana related that she first met Ysus—a graphic designer and bike repairer at the time—in her former life as a journalist when she wrote a story on his bike group. The two bonded over a commitment to ethical veganism but were frustrated at their city's lack of dining options. (A vegan won't go hungry in D.F., but it's nearly impossible to find a restaurant completely free of animal products; and if you're also avoiding soy, forget about it.) "I used to write for newspapers, but in the end, I wasn't changing anything," Mariana recalled. "So we decided to quit our jobs and do something."
Like stateside kindred spirits Terry Romero and Isa Moskowitz of Post Punk Kitchen, they figured that the best way to advocate for animals was to make vegan food more accessible to Mexico City residents. Ysus was an accomplished baker and Mariana had cooking skills passed down from her Oaxacan grandmother. Armed with just $357, their bikes, and a dream, the two friends got to work, rising with the sun each morning to prepare the day's sandwiches and desserts to be delivered by the end of lunchtime. "The first day that we delivered something, I was like, What the fuck am I doing?" Mariana admitted. "No one is going to like it."
Luckily those fears were unfounded, and the orders began pouring in via Facebook and Twitter DMs. Four years later, Los Loosers employ and provide health insurance to two cooks, Ana and Jorge, and three delivery guys: Ysus, Julián, and Pepe. They've cooked for everyone from Spanish pop star Enrique Bomburi and American Black Panther Emory Douglas to newspaper employees and crust punks. Bike messengers from all over the world come and work for them while they're in Mexico City. "We created something from nothing," boasted Mariana.
As for the name itself, Mariana re-appropriated it from a former friend who once made fun of her because she ate and travelled differently from the majority.
"One night, in front of all my friends, he said, 'Why you are not like us? Like, normal? You ride your bike, you eat grass.' So in Spanish, he said, 'Tu eres una perdedora.' 'You are a loser.' And I said, 'If I am a loser because I'm not like you, I'm proud to be a loser.' So many years after that, I was like, 'I have the name. It's Los Loosers. Double O is because of the wheels of our bikes."
At that point in our morning together, the cooks brought out a bright green avocado spread that filled the room with the scent of garlic, with which they proceeded to assemble a 75 peso ($5.70) sandwich. Packed with three kinds of mushrooms, cumin, spicy habaneros, rice, chayote, chickpeas, and said creamy avocado spread, all wedged between fresh-baked bread, it was miles beyond any meatless burger I'd tasted in over 18 years of vegetarianism. Their dessert special, a fluffy avocado brownie—which tasted not of avocado, but chocolate—was equally impressive.
As my inaugural ride through D.F. loomed closer, I asked about safety.
"What's it like to ride a bike around here?"
"In Mexico, you don't need to take a driving test," replied Mariana. "You just need to pay 500 pesos or whatever. People are texting and driving all the time, so there's no rules. You can see the bike lane in Reforma and that's it. Right now, D.F. has a lot of cyclists, so it's pretty dangerous." She added that she'd stopped doing deliveries herself after cracking her tailbone.
"Cool, let's ride!" I replied.
After lending me a helmet and admonishing Ysus several times to "be nice with her," Mariana sent us on our way. "Are you good at sneaking?" asked the fixie-riding daredevil. Huh? "Around cars." I responded with a "not really." We did a bit of sneaking anyway. Ysus said he didn't believe in bike lanes: "If there's no [bike] culture, it doesn't matter if there are bike lanes."
Despite what Mariana had just told me about Mexico City drivers, it really wasn't that much worse than riding a bike in Manhattan, with the caveat that riding a bike in Manhattan is fucking terrifying. Pedestrians stepped into the bike lane at random, and one of them "jokingly" made a gesture like he was going to knock Ysus over. As we cut across multiple lanes of the roundabout at Plaza Insurgentes, I said a prayer to Santa Maria.
"My best trick is ending the day alive. That's my only trick," replied Ysus when I asked if he could do any stunts.
The first delivery was to a woman who was stoked to be receiving her mushroom burger in a timely fashion. She happily posed for a picture making the "L" sign for Los Loosers. Shortly thereafter, we hightailed it over to the offices of the local newspaper, Excelsior. Ysus left his bike unlocked outside. Wasn't he afraid that someone would steal his custom-built ride?
"It has no breaks and small pedals," he chortled. "Theft? I dare you!"
Despite Ysus' best efforts, I struggled to keep up with him on my clunky tourist bike and he was scheduled to ride all the way out to the airport. The sweat pooling in my ass crack told me it was time to go home. We completed another delivery in the vicinity to some teenagers chilling in front of a record store and said goodbye. "Call me if you get lost," he mentioned before speeding off.
By the time I got back to my Airbnb in Colonia Roma, Los Loosers had already posted a photo of me on their Instagram feed. In it, I'm making the "L" sign while Ysus pretends to be frightened for my life. Fair enough.