Frozen fruit dreams
Three years ago, Maria Lujano felt like there was something missing from Chico’s Thursday Night Market. There was plenty of variety in the market’s food, Lujano said, but she wanted to appeal more to the local Hispanic community. Together with her daughter, 21-year-old Yareli Ruiz, a Pleasent Valley High School graduate, Lujano opened Chico Chamangos: Snacks & Raspados, a food truck that specializes in chamangos, frozen beverages made with shaved ice and mango. Chamoy gives the drinks a little spice, and they’re served with a tamarind candy straw. They also make other flavors of raspados (shaved ice drinks), as well as tostilocos, which are basically street nachos topped with hot sauce, lime, veggies, chamoy and chili powder. Lujano was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and later moved to Los Angeles before settling down in Chico 15 years ago. Ruiz is the second youngest of six children, but she’s not the first to get into the food truck business in Chico. Her brother Jesse Martinez runs Maria’s Gone Tamales with his wife, Elisabet. The Chico News & Review sat down with Ruiz after a recent busy market evening to discuss the mother-daughter business. The Chico Chamangos truck can be found at the Thursday Night Market; search for it on Facebook to learn more.
What inspired you to go into business?
We used to always come to the market and my mom thought, “It would be great to open a truck and make money.” She was inspired by growing up in Tijuana, where this is common and there wasn’t anything like that up here. So we wanted to bring it.
So you went out and bought a truck?
We started as a booth before we had the food truck and it was very popular, so we figured this was better. It’s easier to set up, take down and move around.
How have people responded?
We get a lot of unfamiliar people saying, “What is this? I’ve never seen that.” But people liked it, and it looks kind of cool. We handed out a lot of samples the first year, but after people tried, it they became regulars.
What is your most popular item?
Chamango is. I feel like it is because it’s unique. We use all natural flavors and the price is pretty good. People try to imitate us, but they can’t. My mom uses secret ingredients so other people’s just aren’t as good.
Other than at the market, where can people find you?
Right now my mom is working on getting a permit so we can roam around with the truck. As of right now, this is where you can find us.