By Lila Asnani, Foodable Contributor
Food trucks are a staple in many parts of the nation, but are still in their infancy in Las Vegas. One person who is determined to change this and is working hard to make sure that food trucks are here to stay is Yasser Zermeno.
Yasser and his cousin, Christian Guzman, are the owners of the Dragon Grille food truck. The Dragon Grille serves modern, Asian-fusion cooking. It was chosen as the 2015 Best Food Truck by the LV Review Journal Readers Poll, an impressive feat for a business that has only been around for two years. The Dragon Grille has also been featured on the FYI channel and in the Los Angeles Times.
Yasser is originally from Guatemala and came to America at the age of sixteen. He worked as a dishwasher in an Italian restaurant while finishing high school. Yasser has been in the restaurant business for over twenty years and has worked every job from sous chef to general manager.
Yasser decided to purchase a food truck in 2013 because he was tired of working for others. He had always wanted to go into business for himself and have the freedom to pursue his very distinct ideas on food preparation, service and management. He also especially wanted more free time to spend with his family.
A Restaurant on Wheels
He started by outfitting a custom built food truck. He installed state of the art equipment, so that the space resembles your traditional restaurant assembly line. Food is cooked on the left and served on the right in order to expedite service. He refers to it as a fully operational restaurant on wheels.
When he bought the business, it had a limited menu of rice bowls and tacos. He decided to expand the menu, because he wanted to give his customers a wider selection. He also wanted to showcase the potential cooking range of a food truck. More specifically he wanted to highlight that it was possible to produce restaurant quality food expeditiously by using an efficient production system while having a commitment to a good product.
Why a Food Truck?
Yasser chose to start his business in a food truck because the initial investment was significantly less than that of a traditional restaurant. He had been in the industry for a long time and was frustrated by what he saw as a growing trend in restaurants to spend more money on marketing versus improving food quality.
The limited budget of a food truck forces and really fuels him to create his own brand on his own terms. He appreciates that he has the flexibility to go out to his customers, rather than waiting for them to come see him. Yasser is his brand and there is no better way to showcase his dedication than a daily interaction with his customers.
Owning a food truck in Las Vegas does come with its own set of challenges:
· The competition is fierce and can lead to some unscrupulous undercutting.
· Food trucks are not as well established in Las Vegas, so there is a lot of work needed to educate consumers regarding the excellent quality of affordable food that is being produced. Food trucks are still hounded by the old perceptions of bad hygiene and mediocre mass production.
· Weather is always a factor, especially considering the 100 par degrees in the summer.
· Strict zoning regulations mean food trucks are not allowed to park on the Las Vegas strip and also not within 200 feet of a restaurant.
The good news is that food trucks are slowly becoming a permanent fixture, especially for the larger musical events like Life is Beautiful and iHeartRadio in Las Vegas. Businesses are increasing the use of food trucks because of the great cuisine variety. Food trucks also provide the convenience of being self-sufficient as they have their own water, gas and power supplies. The simple fact is that they are essentially getting a restaurant on wheels.
Plans for Expansion
Yasser would like to expand his business into food courts and dreams of owning a franchise, but thinks that he will always own a food truck. Yasser notes that his food truck is “his baby…we have turned it into a brand and we have to take care of it. It put us on the map and it will bring us to the next level.”
Yasser firmly believes that he is not just creating a business but rather a legacy for his children and all those who are fortunate to work with him. He stresses that “everything you cook and send out has a little bit of you, whether it is flavor or presentation. People know when you make something with love and whether you want to create a legacy or are just in it for the money.”
It is not hard to imagine that with Yasser’s commitment to his vocation and dream, his legacy is almost guaranteed to continue for many generations to come.