How Richard Gomez’s tamale cart design will change sidewalk vending in L.A.

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Take a part classic car. Pour a heavy scoop of a midcentury ice cream cart. Paint in candy shades.

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Now you’ve got to guess the eye-catching design of a new Tamarind car by Richard Gomez of Revolution Karts. Flared fenders protect the wheels. A flat grille up front highlights a 1950s Ford pickup. And it comes in a rainbow of great colors: red, orange, pink and baby blue.

Gomez has worked in mobile vending for nearly two decades. By day he is an engineer at AA Cater Trucks, a Los Angeles company that designs food trucks for individual owners as well as companies such as In-N-Out and King Taco. By night, he runs revolution vehicles, the company he founded to develop a line of carts specifically for sidewalk vendors.

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A rendering shows a code-compliant tamale cart designed by Richard Gomez of Revolution Karts, which will come in a rainbow of colors.
(revolution vehicles)

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Officially known as the Tamalero, Gomez’s new cart design is revolutionary because it has managed to achieve something that once seemed impossible: approval from the LA County Department of Public Health.

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In fact, when designing for Tamalero was the green light By the authorities in April, Gomez was in a state of disbelief. “I got a call and they said, ‘Your plan is approved,'” he recalls. “I was like, ‘Let’s wait until we have a stamped plan.

When he finally saw that plan, he says he still doesn’t believe it. “Satisfaction,” he says, somewhat at a loss for words, “knowing that it can change people’s lives.”

Certainly, Tamalero – which is only approved for distribution of Tamale and Tamale – is no small feat.

For three years, sidewalk vendors in much of Los Angeles County have been operating under a Kafka-esque regulatory puzzle. Any type of sidewalk vending is now officially legal, but in order to sell food, vendors need a permit from the Department of Public Health. To get that permit, they need an approved carriage. those cars? Well, they don’t exist.

And they don’t exist on a large scale because it’s impossible to design them. Public health codes are modeled around brick-and-mortar restaurants, and therefore require extensive storage and refrigeration facilities as well as sanitary equipment such as a three-compartment sink. The Kaunke Design Initiative, a community development and design non-profit, recently tried to design a county-approved sidewalk vending cart for grilling meats like tacos and bacon-wrapped hot dogs. But the essential ingredients needed to prepare the meat on site (which are more extensive than selling pre-made foods) were so difficult that the cart would have weighed more than 1,200 pounds—nearly half the weight of the Mini Cooper.

Good luck pushing it anywhere, much less getting it on the pavement.

Without valid vehicles, sellers engage in operation without a permit. As a result, they are fined and their equipment confiscated regularly, which can be disastrous for workers who often work in conditions of economic uncertainty, The COVID-19 pandemic has only aggravated the situation.

This summer, a group of vendors took the steps of LA City Hall in protest, complete with a cardboard mockup of what a code-compliant cart might look like. It was unreasonably huge.

One rendering shows an orange-colored pushcart with an umbrella.
A rendering shows Richard Gomez’s Tamalero car in orange.
(revolution vehicles)

Tamalero, therefore, marks a breakthrough moment: a step toward creating a vehicle with which both sidewalk vendors and health departments can live. Gomez has two dozen carts in production and is expected to be in the hands of vendors before the end of the year. Each unit costs about $7,500—an economical way to set up a food business at a time when a new catering truck can cost upwards of $100,000.

Gomez sees her work as not only building a code-compliant vehicle but also helping low-income workers establish a livelihood. He tells me of a recent meeting with a young mother, for whom sidewalk vending meant she could take a job without paying for childcare, as she would take her child with her while she worked. Could.

“These are the stories I think about,” he says. “That’s the biggest thing for me.”

One rendering shows a tamarind cart in a deep shade of green with an umbrella.
The Tamarind Cart, built by Richard Gomez, also comes in green inspired by the green on the Mexican flag.
(revolution vehicles)

On a hot Sunday morning in October, I meet Gomez in her workshop in Pacoima: a shed and outdoor workspace filled with all kinds of tools. Like many engineers, he is intentional and detail-oriented, more interested in talking about health codes and the mechanics of design than in his own life story.

He was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and when he was 9 years old, he and his family immigrated to America, where his father founded a trucking company. As a teenager, Gomez took an interest in engineering when the high school mentoring program connected her with an engineer at Hughes Aircraft. He later studied engineering at Los Angeles Harbor College.

A family member told him about a possible job at Wahe Enterprises, a company that designs trucks for various commercial uses. For a time, he worked on a number of commercial trucks, including plumbing trucks and step vans. However, when he landed he found his calling AA Cater Truck, the company’s food-truck division. In that role, he began working on trucks for corporate clients, refining designs and updating trucks to meet evolving health and safety codes.

For about half a dozen years he focused purely on engineering. “If the Department of Public Health said something,” he said, “we designed it to meet the code.”

But his views began to change in the spring of 2008, when the county board of supervisors passed an ordinance that threatened food truck owners with hefty fines and jail time for parking too much in one place. The ordinance sparked outrage in a place where food trucks are an indelible part of the landscape – as well as a public letter, signed by thousands, declaring, “Carne asada is not a crime. ” (The ordinance was later overruled by a High Court judge, who declared it “too vague to be enforceable”.)

That episode, says Gomez, “was a lesson to me that you need to get into the code.”

To that end, he became involved with non-profit development groups such as East LA Community Corp and the Leadership for Urban Renewal Network (now known as Inclusive Action for the City), the latter of which led the organization. helped to organize. Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign, These groups pushed for legalizing sidewalk vending in 2018 and are now advocating for regulatory codes that are in line with the realities of sidewalk vending.

Case in point: Does a bacon dog vendor really need 12 cubic feet of refrigeration and a three compartment sink? Gomez wants to tackle the next challenge: a Department of Health-approved cart for cooked meats.

Matt Geller is the Chief Executive Officer National Food Truck Assn. and runs a company called Best Food Truck Which helps individuals and organizations to book food trucks in their area. He and Gomez have been working on advocacy issues related to mobile vending for nearly a decade. Geller says that Gomez’s work stands out for the attention she has put into crafting a cart that is not only functional but also sends a message with its aesthetics.

“People like me, we’re like, ‘We need to figure something out — form follows function,'” says Geller. “But Richard says design will play a key role in its acceptance as a new form of eating.”

Gomez, who researched foodie pushcarts dating back to the Roman era for his design, says aesthetics is key. “People who don’t want it look at these stands and say, ‘This looks like a third world country,'” he says. “So I want to make something beautiful.”

mission accomplished.

I’ll have a tamale, please – with a side of style,

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