By Vanessa Rancano
Local food entrepreneur Tina Ramos, aka Tina Tamale, hopes to expand her mobile food business with a recently purchased pushcart - specifically, Elizabeth August’s Guerilla Grub cart.
August, one of Oakland’s most vocal mobile food activists, has called it quits, reportedly over disillusionment with the city’s new interim food-truck policy.
“I am so done with food trucks,” she told the East Bay Express. She and husband Corey Stowe have turned away from mobile food to concentrate on their catering business.
The timing of this decision was serendipitous for Ramos, who was looking to focus on the mobile vending component of her business. Ramos’ family has owned Old Oakland’s La Borinqueña Mex-icatessen & Specialty Shop for generations. She says the restaurant began getting special event catering requests a couple of years ago, and as she developed that facet of the business, mobile vending seemed like a natural progression.
“It was my way of figuring out how to reach out to old customers and new customers,” Ramos said.
As the Tina Tamale Pop Up-Stand was increasingly asked to vend at events, fans pushed for Ramos to get a food truck. It became clear to her that it is not cost-effective for to operate her stand on a regular basis.
“It works fine for big events, but for small events the overhead is too much,” she said.
Because pushcarts are permitted annually (unlike food trucks, for which only temporary permits are available) and because Ramos’ family restaurant furnishes a commercial kitchen in which to prepare her fare, she opted for a pushcart rather than a truck.
“It’s way more cost-effective annually,” she said. “I don’t have to be out everyday, but I can take on more than I could before.”
Ramos was waiting for the city to pass a resolution that allows food pod events (in which mobile food vendors mass on a given location) to buy a cart. The City Council’s early December decision was her cue. Ramos had sold with August at various events and always eyed the Guerilla Grub set-up, so when she discovered that the Guerilla Grub cart and transporter were for sale she didn’t hesitate.
Ramos is still designing the Tina Tamale Mobile Pushcart menu, but the offerings will imbue traditional Mexican fare with Ramos’ uniquely-Oakland sensibility.
“I’m very proud that I’m Latina and that I have a rich cultural heritage, but I’m very much an Oaktown girl,” she said. “I don’t want to make fussy, precious food. I’m just trying to figure out that balance of culture.”
The cart will don artwork by Joaquin Alejandro Newman and Eduardo Pineda.
“It’s not just branding and not just a billboard,” Ramos said. “It’s art that I’m passionate about.”
Ramos’ new cart will debut in February. Like all mobile food vendors she’ll be hawking her goods on private property, as the city requires. But we may see the return of Oakland’s only regular food pod, Bites Off Broadway, as early as May.