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Rayme Rossello of Comida Food Truck & Comida Cantina

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Photo: Rayme Rossello, Courtesy of Comida

With the Smithsonian Magazine top 20 best food trucks in the U.S. award under her belt, Rayme Rossello of Comida Food Truck and Comida Cantina in Longmont, has been forging forward as one of Boulder's longtime, female restaurateurs. From opening Proto's Pizza in 1999, to earning a degree in pastry from Culinary School of the Rockies, Rossello's skills are varied. Eater recently sat with Rossello to learn about the challenges and joys of starting one of Boulder's first food trucks, her plans for brick and mortar expansion, Summer menu changes and the restaurateurs that inspire her. Here now, Eater's interview with Rossello.

You’re from New York City and you landed in Colorado in 1990. What brought you out here? I was 20 and had two girlfriends who were moving here. At the time, I was actually going to college in Winter Park, Florida for Theater at Rollins College and I needed to take a break. I didn’t know how to drive and I had never seen a mountain before, as I grew up in New York City, so I wanted something new. I moved out here and never left. I ended up transferring to CU in Boulder and graduated with a Women’s Studies degree actually. My father was always like, “What will you ever do with a women’s studies degree?” And I said, “Well hopefully something that makes me happy.”

In 1999 you started Proto’s — how did your food journey evolve from pizza to a graduating from Culinary School of the Rockies and opening a Mexican food truck and cantina? I worked in restaurants, and even when I was 16 in New York City, I was a waitress. I worked for Q’s as a busser, then back waiter, and then a waiter when Dave Query still owned it. After he sold Q’s I kept working there for another five years. Next, I ended up going to Jax, and I was the GM there when the opportunity came for me to start Proto’s with Pam Proto. And before I sold Proto’s I went to pastry school at Culinary School of the Rockies. I just thought I wanted something that was different and outside the box — something that I had never done before that would make me uncomfortable. Something that would help me grow, not as a pastry chef, but as a restaurateur. I did that, and that was a great experience. I learned a ton, and one of the things I learned is that I never wanted to be a pastry chef. Then, I bought into Mateo and owned Mateo for about a year and a half, then said “Okay, this is only working to a point," so I wanted to figure out what I could do next, just on my own.

Onto Comida, how did you land on the color pink for the truck and naming it Tina? I knew five to six years ago that I wanted to have something called Comida, so that was the first part, and then Tina came after driving her for six months. We would make that joke from Napolean Dynamite, “Tina eat your ham!” The truck itself, the color and what Comida is, came over sitting with my graphic designer Melissa Edwards, who I have known for 15 years. We just talked about what represents Mexico to me — what represents the culture and the feel. Then it came to me — bougainvillea was the thing, they are all over the country, so that is where the color came from. Melissa also designed the whole truck look and feel.

You were one of the first food trucks in Boulder — what was it like in the beginning? Yes, we were definitely the first food truck of this kind. There was the Roach Coach and a truck called The Green Gringo that started but never really set off, so mine was amongst the first. Then there were a couple of others that came and went within six months after they opened. It was a crazy experience. The first day we went to the Steelyards in Boulder, it was really exciting and awesome. We had a line for the whole time and I was completely blown away. But I knew what we were doing was something that was going to get me into trouble because the city had basically said you’re not allowed to do it, but they hadn’t given me any guidelines at all and they hadn’t really told me why I couldn’t do it. Also, they gave me a sales tax license. On the second day, I went and parked downtown on the East side of Pearl Street in Boulder and had a great day. We parked on the street and lots of people come by. Then the next day was a Wednesday and we parked down on the West End of Pearl near Nick N’ Willy’s and someone called the cops on us. That put the kibosh on us ever going downtown again.

What are your thoughts on the red tape and regulations the city of Boulder has against food trucks? I don’t think about it anymore actually. I've figured out my business model, what really works for me, and worked hard for a year and a half establishing a customer base on a couple of great spots. There were some days that we had to show up and make $100, and it’s the same amount of work for $100 as it is for $1,000. But, as the other trucks came along, they knew those were our spots on those days and stayed away, as we had worked hard to establish that.

Is that how it works? You stake your claim and area around here? That is just how it works, because there is no other way to do it. Its not like there’s an organization that says you get to go here and you can go over there.

All your hard work has definitely paid off. You were just featured in Smithsonian Magazine as #18 in a list of 20 of the best food trucks in the United States. Yes, that was in February and on June 24th Fox News also featured us as one of the "Top 10 Food Trucks in America." It feels awesome. Really great. It feels exciting and I’m honored. There are 15 trucks in Boulder County, so to be one of the top 10 in the country is huge. We get a lot of requests online for private truck stops and people wanting us to come to their office park event, you name it. There is only so much we can do. At this point I’m the person who still schedules all of that. At this point, I’m working on getting somebody to help me organize all that. There is more business than I can staff or respond to. Which is awesome.

With the growing fame and success of the food truck, what was the inspiration to open Comida Cantina in February 2012? My first Proto’s I ever opened was here in Longmont and my partner [at the time, Pam Proto] and I moved into this neighborhood. I stayed in the neighborhood while I was building a condo and I lived in an apartment at the end of this block. My address was 801 Confidence, and at the time this building wasn’t here. I never wanted to live and work in the same little bit of space, and at the time, I knew we weren’t going to open a Proto’s here. But when I sold that and moved to Boulder (and have lived there ever since) about a year and a half ago, Edward (who owns a business across the street — Suburban Hill) called and said he was having this big sale and thought it would be really fun to have the truck come out. It was in December and I said yes. We brought Tina out on a cold, December day and had a line for three hours. I saw all these people I hadn’t seen for forever — old friends, old customers and old neighbors. It was amazing. I brought the food truck back a few times and there were no other trucks at the time, then more trucks started coming. The restaurants in the area were closed on Mondays, so I thought, rather than take money out of the pockets of restaurants, why don’t we pick a day that they’re all closed and make it truck night? So Edward spearheaded that and has created this beast that happens every Monday night in the summer with live bands and the other restaurants have rallied around supporting that. There are 14-15 trucks out here now. Soon after, I started talking to people who owned the sushi restaurant and they were like, “The space is available you’re doing so well, what if we did some cross promotion?” That never really worked, then they decided they were going to be done and they wanted to sell me the contents of the space. That didn’t work out either. In the end, I said no thank you, but I had already established a rapport with the guy that owned the space. He finally called and said, “I’m willing to just hand the keys over to you. And here’s a couple months free rent and sign a lease and make it work.” So that’s how the opportunity came about. It really was meant to be, the ceiling was pink, the dining rooms chairs were pink. It was awesome.

What can we expect from menu changes for the summer from the truck or cantina? We’re doing a lot more working with local farmers in the neighborhood. We just started doing that, so I’m not even going to name the farms at this point in time. But we have fresh corn going into the poblano and roasted corn tamales. We’re doing tamale’s every Friday night, that’s a new thing. We were going to do whole roasted corn on the cob, when that comes into season, like they do on the streets in Mexico.This really is street food. Small little bites of things that you crave and want to come back for more of but doesn't have to be bad for you.

Do you have a connection with Mexico then? My mom lived there for 10 years so I visited a ton while she was there. It has always been my go-to vacation spot. Never to Cancun, but Tulum, Mexico City and Sayulita — places like that.

With all of this success, are you planning to expand? Yes. I'm working on another location in Denver. Definitely brick and mortar, maybe also with the food truck with it, like we have here, but definitely brick and mortar.

You were just recently at Food & Wine. With appearances like that and running the cantina with the food truck, how do you balance all of this? I work hard. And I work a lot, but I delegate. I have really incredible people that support me and I believe in them. I know they can do their jobs, and I let them do their jobs. I don’t micro-manage them. I think that helps me. I am quite clear that I can’t make any of this succeed unless I ask for help and let people do what they do well. And they do. The food is also really good, and were not too cool for school. We make mistakes. We’re human. And that’s just how it goes sometimes. We make mistakes, were humble hopefully, and we apologize if we do.

Do you have Chefs or food inspiration that you look up to and follow? Either locally or nationally? Gosh, I mean, I look up to restaurateurs more. Like people I’ve met over the years or people I’ve read. Grant Achatz is one - nothing what he does is like what I do, but he is out of Chicago. He is an incredibly driven and hard working great man. Danny Meyer is a great restaurateur obviously and really good at what he does. I don’t know what he’s like on a day-to-day basis, but from what I’ve read from him and given the success that he has had I gotta think that he is something like that. Gabrielle Hamilton is an incredible woman, person, chef and writer. And here in town, Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson. They show up and they’re hard working. They are great at what they do and they’re humble. They’re expensive as hell, and they make me feel like I want to sit at the bar and somehow enjoy it. They make it really worth it. Finally, Dave Query. I learned more from him — more than any other single restaurateur or boss. I really didn’t have many bosses, as he was my boss for a long time, but I would say that my relationship with him was very formative in who I've become.

Anything else we should be on the lookout for, with the future of the Comida Empire? My dream would be to open the restaurant in Denver and have it be awesome, and then open a restaurant in Boulder. It would be a triangle of goodness without losing who I am. Other than that, I want to be a part of the communities I’m in. Give back in the ways that make sense, when I can. And keep going out and enjoying what other people are doing. I eat and drink a lot. I don’t go home and sit on the couch and watch TV, that’s not me. I don’t learn by watching cooking shows, I learn by going out, putting my hands in other peoples' hands and making friends.

· All Comida Cantina Coverage [EDen]
· All Comida Food Truck Coverage [EDen]

Comida Cantina

721 Confidence Drive, Unit 1, Longmont, CO