José Jiménez and Margarita Ceballos are co-owners of Lupita’s Restaurant on Frankston Highway. The inspiration and namesake of the restaurant is Margarita’s grandmother, as well as José and Margarita’s daughter. Their four food trucks are a well-known presence in Tyler at special events, hospitals and construction sites. Here is José’s story, translated from Spanish to English by Paulina Pedroza.
“I have lived in Tyler for 15 years. We began Lupita’s Restaurant and food trucks five years ago. We started with one truck. We now have four, plus the dine-in restaurant.
The situation is critical, very hard. Our clients are super scared. They thought they could lose the jobs before the quarantine, and now it’s happening. Also, people are worried about what kind of help from the government they can get now that they don’t have jobs or money.
The clients we normally provide food to, they are located in the city: hospitals, dealerships, downtown, at construction sites, near schools, big businesses. When the city has public events, they call us, as well as private events.
Since this nightmare started, sales are 70% less. These problems happened even before the stay-at-home order, but starting Friday, it became worse. We are doing more than we can do, more than humans can do, in order to survive this crisis. We don’t want to let our workers go. We are trying as hard as we can to keep them. Every single one of them still has a job, but we have to stop making some payments. We can afford one thing or the other.
We are just buying minimally. Two [trucks] are around the construction sites, and two are in the garage. At the restaurant, the only thing we can do is take orders by phone and make the deliveries from the food trucks.
Lots of people are begging for jobs. They are calling, asking us, ‘Please give me a job.’ I know other businesses that have decided to close their doors because it has been so difficult for them. This is a deep crisis we have never dealt with before, and we are scared. Everybody is scared — clients, employees, friends, family members — every single one. Now, it’s impossible to give jobs to those begging for them, even though we want to. We want to keep the few workers we have alive. Now is harder than any other time.
As soon as we saw what was happening, we got a loan to help cover the last couple of weeks. Now, we have run out of money. In my opinion, we need help from the state in addition to help from the federal government. The crisis is so bad that we need help from both entities. We need another loan so that, eventually, we can go back to life.
The income we can get from just one food truck is not enough money to provide for our business. I have been talking with some providers. In my opinion, if [the stay-at-home order] is until April 10, we will be safe. But if it goes longer than April 10, that’s going to be a problem. I don’t know where I am going to find the energy to keep this business afloat. We want to keep our clients happy and be back in business. It has been too much in this short amount of time.
I think that if I can get that help from the state and wait until I am back on my feet, I’m gonna be okay. It’s the only way we can survive. Otherwise, it’s gonna be horrible, a deal-breaker. Having time to pay the state monthly charges would be a huge help. There are state taxes, then federal taxes that we have until April 15 [to pay]. On top of that, they are charging taxes for equipment. We are more than ready to work as hard as before. We just need a little time.
I am willing to pay, but I need to make the payments without being charged penalties by the state. These past five years, we have been paying every month. We want to contribute to this marvelous country. We are so grateful to be in this country. During this tough month, we paid our taxes with the loan we received. We didn’t want to be behind. But now, we are worried about next month, along with water, electricity, gas. It all adds up. We are hoping the Texas government can help by giving us more time to make the next payment.
Fire stations, police departments — they all know Lupita’s food trucks, and they trust us. We have never had issues from the health department because they know what a great job and what quality we offer: good beef, good tacos and very affordable. The health department has been giving us guidelines we are following as directly and specifically as they are telling us to. We have a good relationship with them.
We go to construction sites because we already know them. We have been driving all around Smith County. The schools have closed. We are allowed to be at some hospitals, but not all of them.
I have always been very strict in following health and sanitation regulations. Now, we are doing the same practices we have put in place since day one. For me, it’s very important that food is at the right temperature, whether cold or hot. The truck is clean, outside and inside. We use hand sanitizer, we wear gloves and masks. I am even stricter than before. Now, whenever we sell the food, there is no longer a line. We have three or four people standing six feet apart. It’s taking longer to give customers their orders, but it’s the right thing to do.
Lupita’s is a family business. Three of my children work with me, and two more are employees. I met with them and said, ‘If there is any coughing, shortness of breath, flu symptoms, you need to let me know. You won’t be working here. The safety of our customers is the main thing.’ There have been zero problems with that so far. For us, this has been more of an economic crisis than a medical crisis.
People are hungry. They don’t have money to eat. Yesterday at a construction site, eight of the workers didn’t have enough hours at work. They were hungry, but they didn’t have any money. Lupita’s gave away eight meals because they knew their need. The ones suffering, the ones being harmed, are the workers. They don’t have money even for that day. They are living day by day, even in the United States.
Lupita’s Restaurant wants to keep the faith and to stay united. We have to help each other. If you see someone in need, help them. Today is the time to show how human we are. This is not the time for winning. This is a time to help and survive. Our mother told us we wouldn’t be richer or poorer if we help people. We are here for the community.”
Paulina Pedroza is a community advocate and teacher. She has taught English to language learners for 12 years, as well as immigrants preparing for their United States citizenship test. She also teaches Spanish to Tyler police officers. Paulina is an active liaison between Tyler and East Texas organizations and city services and local Latino communities.
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