“We’ve all been coming here since freshman year,” said Jones, who was accompanied by a crowd of fellow 1Ls. “And so long as it’s here, we’ll keep on coming.”
The cart’s owners had better hope so. Since last month, two other carts — La Carreta and another belonging to Vietnamese-Thai restaurant Indochine Pavillion — have set up camp at the same intersection. Familiar faces and the cooking of Bespoke head chef Arturo Franco-Camacho have built up a considerable clientele for Tijuana, with average sales of about 50 burritos per day, according to the cart’s workers. Still, the owners of the new carts said they are optimistic about their prospects at the location, even if not all customers are ready to switch loyalties.
The Indochine cart, which proudly displays its two-week-old permit on its front, is trying to win a following with burritos priced at only five dollars — one buck less than at the more established Tijuana. The cart’s operator, Pedro Jimenez, said the lower prices are one of the business’ biggest selling points.
For Victor Wong ’10, the strategy appears to be working.
“I eat there because it’s the same, but cheaper,” he said as he waited in line yesterday. His friends nodded their heads in agreement.
But Jones, when asked about the lower prices at the new carts, was unmoved: “When it comes to this cart, I’m not price conscious.”
Nipaporn Klancmamee, who manages Indochine Pavilion, which owns the cart, said the restaurant wanted to try something new and will wait to see how successful the venture is before possibly opening more carts.
La Carreta, positioned on the opposite side of Elm Street, boasts prices in the four-to-five-dollar range. And, operator Jose Mendoza said, his cart uses tomato flour in its tortillas, giving them a distinct flavor.
He said the cart has been “having success” in its five weeks of operation. But on Tuesday afternoon, La Carreta had the fewest customers of the three carts.
When asked why he chose La Carreta over the other carts, one customer, Nick Pace, replied, “I parked my car over there,” gesturing to his nearby car “and this was closest.”
Still, even as some customers welcome the competition, others said they are baffled about why two new carts selling Mexican food moved in on a corner that features carts with no other cuisines.
“I just wonder why. Why sell more Mexican food in the same place?” Justin DuRivage GRD ’13 said while standing in line for Tijuana. “If there were a Thai cart, I would gladly go. But there isn’t one, so I go here.”
He said he opted for the Tijuana cart based on reviews he heard from other students.
Richard Barnes, the manager and owner of the Au Bon Pain, located across York Street from the carts, said he welcomes the new carts.
“If anything, I’m glad about the new carts because they give me peripheral business,” he said. “If you get a burrito, you’re probably gonna want something to go with it or a place to sit.”
Meanwhile, across the street, there seemed to be no lack of customers for the carts between 12 and 2 p.m. And although the newcomers had periodic visitors, the line outside the Tijuana cart was near relentless.
The cart’s operators barely had a free second to talk. In a free moment between laying out tortillas and spicy beef, Royer, one of two workers, motioned to the other carts and gave a brief dismissive gesture. He spread out his hands and looked around at his own cart, nodding contentedly and then attending to the next customer in a long line.