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A Dallas Taqueria Copes With The Age Of COVID-19

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Owning a small business is tough enough under normal circumstances, but making ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic - that is a whole new level of tough. In Dallas, Texas, where restaurants have been ordered to close their dining rooms, the owner of a beloved taco shop called Trompo is learning how to stay afloat. Luis Olvera owns Trompo, and he joins me now from Dallas.

Hi there.

LUIS OLVERA: Hi, Mary. How are you doing?

KELLY: I am well. Thank you. Glad to speak with you. And I want to start just by asking, what is business like right now?

OLVERA: Bleak...

KELLY: Oh.

OLVERA: (Laughter) ...To say the least.

KELLY: To say the least.

OLVERA: We are...

KELLY: Meaning what? I mean, what's your - how's today unfolding? How many tacos have you sold?

OLVERA: We're probably performing at about 35, 40% of what our usual volume is.

KELLY: And is that people just walking up and doing it curbside, or are you delivering? How you making it work?

OLVERA: So we have - most of our business right now is through our walk-up window that we opened last week, and the other part is from our delivery partners.

KELLY: Yeah. I know you've had to make some very hard decisions regarding your staff. Tell me about those changes.

OLVERA: We did. We had to let go of all of our non-essential staff. So anyone who is not head of household, we went and we furloughed. So that's about 60% of my staff. I only kept my core employees here on the clock. And it was a very difficult decision to make.

KELLY: Yeah, I can imagine. How big was your staff before?

OLVERA: I had 11. I'm a small operation. I had 11 staff. That's not including any of my catering or my temp workers. This is just my full-time employees.

KELLY: Yeah. I am told that you - while you're continuing to try to sell food and keep the customers and staff that you can, you're also doing some work to help the service industry. Tell us what you've set up.

OLVERA: Yes, I am. So I'm giving away free food to anyone in the service industry here in my town two or three times a week. It's one of those things where - we have kids at home. Some of us are unemployed or taking on odd jobs, and we're not allowed to hang out with our friends or go to bars or go to restaurants. So cooking at home is hard enough as it is, so I thought, why don't I make you one nice little nostalgic meal that my mom or my grandma likes to make so that you can forget about the nonsense for a little while and so can I while I'm cooking it and giving it to you?

KELLY: What are you cooking?

OLVERA: So yesterday we did rice and beans because that's what we eat when we're broke and something...

KELLY: (Laughter) I'm sorry to laugh - appropriate. Go on.

OLVERA: And I made a dish called calabacitas. So it's Mexican squash with chopped pork shoulder, corn and some spices with tomato in there. So I guess it's just a hearty Mexican meal. I'm doing it again on Monday again, including rice and beans. But this time, I'm going to do pozole, and I'm going to do picadillo gorditas.

KELLY: Say the last thing again. I'm not familiar - picadillo gorditas? What's that?

OLVERA: Ground beef with veggies in a corn shell.

KELLY: Oh, that's lovely. And are you cooking the same stuff in the restaurant for people coming up to your window?

OLVERA: I actually am. Tomorrow I'm rolling out my nostalgia menu, which is going to have those type of things.

KELLY: Tell me briefly. We just got a few seconds.

OLVERA: We're going to do pozole, something called empalmes, which are, like, two tortillas with cheese and protein in the middle - kind of like a Mexican pizza.

KELLY: Yeah.

OLVERA: And we're doing different meat or protein gorditas.

KELLY: You have made me hungry, and we are rooting for you.

Thanks so much. Best of luck.

OLVERA: Thank you. Stay healthy.

KELLY: You too. That's Luis Olvera, the owner of Trompo in Dallas, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.