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My Taco Truck Was Extorted by Local Gangbangers

I’ve had a taco truck in LA for 13 years now, but I will never forget the first day I opened for business. I nearly got shot by local gangbangers, and it only got worse from there.

by Anonymous
Sep 20 2017, 6:00pm

Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments. For this installment, we hear from a taco truck owner in Los Angeles who used to get extorted by local gangbangers.

This article first appeared on MUNCHIES in July 2015.

I've had a taco truck in Los Angeles for 13 years now, but I will never forget the first day that I was open for business because I nearly got shot by local gangbangers.

It was a weekday, so I arrived at 9 AM sharp to secure my parking spot for the day. I decided to set up my truck close enough to my house so that I can walk to work everyday. The thing is that I live close to a heavily gang-infested public housing complex, and even though the city has recently really cleaned up our violent gang-related crimes, that was not the case in the early 2000s.

READ: My Time as a Mexican Cop Made Me a Better Street Vendor in Los Angeles

Back then, gang activity was ultra-violent, and consequently, that made life in this part of town really difficult. At one point, I remember coming home and parking my car when a shootout broke between two rival gangs in my own parking lot. I had to take cover under my car to avoid getting hit—it was that bad. But you weirdly just get used to this amount of daily violence just like any other daily routine. It helped to know that a lot of my close friends who lived nearby also lived through this urban warfare on a daily basis, too.

A random car stopped in the middle of the street and threatened me to move my taco truck to another street or else they would burn my truck down.

In 2002, owning a food truck in Los Angeles was not nearly as glamorous as it is now with all of these new gourmet food trucks and their fusion foods. Back then, you opened up a taco truck because you seriously couldn't afford a brick-and-mortar and just really loved tacos. I rented my food truck from a local commissary on a week-by-week basis for $250 a week. There wasn't much competition then so I made enough money to feed my daughters, which was good enough for me to stay in this business for this long.

That first morning started out really good. It was sunny and I had a steady flow of customers since I had already built a loyal following for selling street food in other parts of town. But I noticed that a neighboring food truck's operator wouldn't even make eye contact with me the entire morning, which I thought was odd. And then at around 1 PM that day, a random car stopped in the middle of the street and the driver started shouting at me from the window, along with two other guys behind tinted windows, threatening me to move my taco truck to another street or else they would burn my truck down. The car then got closer to me so that the driver could show me his handgun.

The worst part of all is that I kind of knew the guy since he lived by my house.

I paid him $100 a week and the perk of free tacos whenever he wanted to continue to "protect me" from other lousy gangs for a year.

It turned out that the other taco truck down the street sent him to try to scare me away, in fear of taking their customers from them. That day, I thought about things and decided to close shop early for my safety, since that car drove by us for a second time afterwards. Plus, my 19-year-old daughter that came to work with me was shook up from the whole experience.

But if there is one thing that you learn when you live in the 'hood is that you do not show fear to anyone at any moment, so I didn't give in to their demand. Instead, I looked for someone to protect me, my family, and my business. I found this guy who just got out of jail. At first, my idea worked: my guy went over to the guy that threatened me, he threatened him, and I never heard of him again. I paid him $100 a week and the perk of free tacos whenever he wanted to continue to "protect me" from other lousy gangs for a year.

I realized that I was falling victim to extortion and that the situation was getting out of control, $5,200 later. So I told him that I didn't need his services anymore and I bought myself a gun to protect myself.

I had the unwritten law of gangbanging affiliation on my side. No—because other rivaling gangs knew that I was affiliated with this guy who used to protect me and his gang, no one messed with me—ever.

As the Los Angeles food culture continues to thrive, my business has grown a lot since then, and I've had a huge influx in demographic shift among my customers. But while I don't worry about gangbangers anymore, I can't say the same for the local police department, who have been targeting me and harassing me, doing things like giving tickets to my customers for parking their cars within an inch of a red curb.

But whatever, things happen, and to each his own. If I can rise above gangbangers, I will rise above the LAPD, too.

As told to Javier Cabral