Downtown Niles restaurant pivots to food truck for summer

NILES – El Amigo Pepe’s food truck will be its main outlet to reach hungry diners over the summer.

Parked in downtown Niles, El Amigo Pepe’s food truck sat on Main Street near between Front and North Second street Tuesday afternoon. The food truck is a downtown staple already during the daytime, while the restaurant, located at 226 E. Main St., Niles, is its sit-down option with a broader menu. On Friday, May 21, on its Instagram @el.amigo.pepe, the restaurant announced a shift in its operations.

“After this week [ending on May 23], we will not be serving out of the restaurant,” the Instagram post said. “The food truck will be our main hot spot. We will stay parked downtown Niles as much as possible and try to expand the food truck menu a bit to include some of the restaurant staples.”

In the post, the restaurant shared the staff does not want to close down the restaurant completely. The ownership hopes to reopen the restaurant by the end of the summer.

“We love having the restaurant because people can come in and they know where we are,” said Gabriela Moralez, manager of El Amigo Pepe.

Moralez is a daughter of owners Jose and Ana Mendez.

Lost catering and food truck events during 2020, rising costs of food and a staffing shortage, the tight profit margins forced the family-owned restaurant to put the food truck front and center.

With deposits already down on events and catering events, Moralez said to run both the restaurant and food truck would require a minimum of four cooks.

“It will just be my dad from now on,” she said.

Food cost has risen for the restaurant as well, tightening profit margins.
“We can’t really afford to pay what people are asking who have applied,” Moralez said. “They want $15 or $18 an hour, which we can’t do or else we wouldn’t have a profit.”

The food truck has tested its market in the surrounding communities, visiting the University of Notre Dame’s campus and the Cass County Fair Grounds. It also went mobile in 2015, prior to opening its Main Street location.

“Knowing the food truck has established a name for itself helped [the owners] come to that decision,” Moralez said.

Karina Ortiz was working on the food truck on Tuesday with mother, Ana.

“It is a limited menu, but they’re going to bring some of the popular items from the restaurant over,” Ortiz said.

For now, the restaurant’s space, which the restaurant moved to in 2017, will remain with the owners. The restaurant can now be reserved for up to 25 guests for two hours for a personal taco or fajita bar.

“We are hoping to find enough staff,” Moralez said. “We’re giving ourselves time to think about that decision. We would like to keep it.”

Moralez said the Niles community has been supportive of the restaurant throughout its time in Niles, and especially during the pandemic.

“[Customers] made sure to place their orders, whatever method [we could offer]. They have always taken care of the front of house staff, even though they couldn’t serve, they were still tipping them,” Moralez said.

The staff is working on updating the restaurant’s website with a calendar with locations, hours and specials. Updates can be found at ElAmigoPepeRestaurant.com and at the El Amigo Pepe Facebook page.

 

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