Red Pickle food truck owner shows passion through cooking
Mario Alfaro jokingly blames Jon Favreau’s 2014 movie “Chef” for his decision to buy a food truck.
He never got a bad review or fired by a controlling owner like in the plot line, but he wanted to show his own passion through cooking.
“He really wanted to do his own thing after working for people in restaurants for a long time,” said his wife, Nea. “We really wanted a full restaurant, but we couldn’t quite find something that fit what we wanted and what we were looking to make happen.”
So they went out and bought a bright red food truck, created a business called the Red Pickle and served food with influences from his home country of Guatemala.
“A few of my recipes come from my family, but I want to try to take what this town has, like burgers, and incorporate Guatemalan spices into them,” Mario said.
Guatemalan flavors usually incorporate fresh herbs like parsley and cilantro combined with spices like peppers and cardamom to create some heat.
“It is a little bit spicy and has some kick, but it is not overpowering,” Mario said. “There is a nice, fresh balance of flavor.”
Some of these traditional flavors included in dishes like the gauchito, a burger with Guatemalan spices and the shuko, a Guatemalan-style hot dog.
“You can go on any (Guatemalan) street and find them,” Mario said.
From D.C. to Ellensburg
When Mario Alfaro arrived in the U.S. 12 years ago, he immediately started working with no experience.
“My first job was a washer-slash-prep cook,” Mario said. “I didn’t even know how to cook food.”
He started learning skills while working at the restaurant management company EatWell DC, and eventually started adding his own flavors at home.
Opening his own business
After some time exploring other careers in the restaurant industry, from being a busboy to a bartender, Mario arrived in Ellensburg and purchased the truck in 2015.
“We put our heads down and said ‘let’s do it,’ but as soon as I saw how big the truck was I hoped we did the right thing,” Nea said.
But something didn’t seem right at first. Their big red investment on wheels had a giant pig riding a motorcycle with the name Choppers on the side.
“I really disliked the logo and I couldn’t make any connection that would work,” Nea said.
They started to brainstorm and after realizing that they loved pickles and their kids loved pickles, the Red Pickle was born.
The couple started selling their food in the winter of 2015 in front of Jerrol’s Book & Supply on University Way and business started taking off.
“It has been harder than we thought to be a mobile food truck, but we made it through the winter time,” Nea said. “The snow added some problems and there were a lot of regulations in the city. I think it was beneficial that we just bought it and made it work, because if I knew all the regulations beforehand, I don’t think we would have done it.”
Almost nine months later, they have established themselves as a popular eating destination in Ellensburg and have developed key friendships along the way.
Just this month, The Red Pickle has partnered with Whipsaw Brewery to serve its customers.
“We want to help both our business grow so we can stay in Ellensburg,” Nea said.
With the Red Pickle already developing its Guatemalan flavors through burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches, Mario and Nea know there is no limit on what they can serve. Just this week, it has added a brunch menu on Saturday and Sunday.
They have already introduced new culinary dishes that residents might not have tried before including an alligator po’ boy and an elk burger and Mario said he wants to keep establishing his food in the community.
“We would love to open a restaurant offering more options and make it kid friendly,” Mario said. “This town is really family oriented so I want a restaurant where people can take their kids out to eat and enjoy themselves.”