Lessons Learned from a Taco Trailer

Welcome to El Parasol!

I’ve discovered throughout my life, every family is different. In fact, one of the life lessons we tried to teach our children was that “Every Family Is Weird” and especially OURS! This was to prepare them for life and eventually marriage to someone from another family that has its own idiosyncrasies, and also to save us from embarrassment when they were little.

Road Trips
One thing our weird family enjoys is Road Trips, and as small business owners, we have always done our best to support local restaurants, both at home and on a road trip, along with staying at local hotels, and shopping at local businesses. Our track record with choosing local is pretty good as most local businesses cannot survive if they are not doing things right…at least they don’t survive for very long!

Keeping it Local
We have found that the very best place to find out where the stellar local eateries are is to stop at a fruit stand.  As the owners of fruit stands are the same people who supply restaurants with FRESH produce, these people have an inside track to the very best locally owned restaurants, and they know “fresh & local” like no one else!  This is exactly how we arrived at El Parasol in Espanola, New Mexico many years (and many road trips) ago.

Introduction to El Parasol
Now, El Parasol is not somewhere you would choose from it’s elegant exterior.  It is an 8’ x 10’ Taco Trailer that has somehow that has been serving local and regional visitors for over 50 years now. The food is amazing, the service extraordinary and this tiny Taco Trailer is legendary.

Screenshot 2015-03-07 16.17.25Under the Umbrella
The El Parasol concept began in 1958 with Pedro and Lorenzo Atencio, ten and twelve years old respectively, selling their mother’s beef tacos and red pork tamales under a patio umbrella on the main street in Espanola, New Mexico. This business venture was limited to the summer months. Price for a taco was 15 cents and tamales were 10 cents. A good day’s sales totaled a whopping $20.00.

Car Hops
Prior to this entrepreneurial endeavor, the one-woman cooking show starring Frances Atencio had played only to colleagues and close friends in addition to her growing family. The two Atencio boys ran constantly from car to car, grabbing tacos and tamales to deliver to the lined-up drivers as their Mom replenished the supply on the patio table. This was possibly an original conception of the “drive-up window,” although there was no window, much less a building.

Locals referred to this seasonal venture as “The Stand” and began to urge the family to establish a year around site. This run-to-the-car concept was expanded by Luis Atencio, a plumber by profession, to a small, self-contained recreational trailer, known as the Taco Wagon, converted into a kitchen, much like the modern day mobile food vending units. From 1964 to 1969, the menu was expanded from tacos and tamales to other popular items such as hamburgers, tostadas, burritos and homemade desserts.

People began to travel from all over northern New Mexico to buy the food which had gained a huge reputation and following. The patio umbrella was adopted as the logo to remind locals that this was the Atencio family business and that they could expect the same good food.

2015-02-24 12.35.48Our Wintry Visit – February 2015
This particular visit to El Parasol was a bit unusual. It was a very cold February day, and as we were making the drive into Espanola, it began to snow, with huge, fluffy, beautiful flakes falling from the sky.  I began to wonder if El Parasol would be closed due to several days of extremely cold temperatures, and was delighted when we turned the corner and saw the usual crowd of people bundled up and standing under the protection of their little awning waiting for their orders.

The El Parasol Ladies
The ladies who run the Taco Trailer were calling out warm greetings and discussing the unusual weather with locals and those of us from other parts of the country as well.  Standing and shivering in the cold didn’t seem to make a visit to El Parasol any less wonderful for those of us waiting while the ladies created their mouth watering pork burritos, famous chicken tacos and their delicious fresh guacamole with homemade chips.

Fun & Laughter
The El Parasol ladies serve up fun and laughter along with the bags and boxes of tacos and other goodies and run their taco trailer as if you were visiting them in their own home. They visit with you, ask where you’re from, how long you’ve been coming to El Parasol, and make you feel like you’re not just a customer, but a valued guest. The parking lot is busy with cars coming and going, no matter what time of day you arrive, and they continue to consistently dish up great food, with friendly conversation.

What can we learn about running our own businesses from a simple visit to a tiny little Taco Trailer?

If we’ll just open our eyes and take a look around, business learning opportunities are around every corner. We can learn customer service tactics from both good and bad experiences we’ve had with similar businesses or from those businesses that are polar opposites from ours!  The important thing is not to just take note, but to take action to improve the way we do business.

1.  Exceptional Service
A warm greeting and serving our customers with a friendly attitude truly is half the battle! In these days of self-service almost everywhere you go, training our staff (and ourselves) to serve our clients one-on-one is almost unheard of.  Taking time to find out what their needs are, and helping them find what they want so they are happier when they leave than when they walked in the door goes a long way! Although our visits to this little Taco Trailer are months, and sometimes even a year apart, the ladies are always “ON” with warm, friendly service.

2.  Great Products
Having a fresh selection of well-researched products for our customers to choose from is also very important.  As store owners, we need to be educated on the latest and greatest products in the categories that we choose to specialize in.  You cannot expect customers to return if you have product from three years ago collecting dust in the corners of your store.

It is our job to source, display and sell current trending products in our businesses.  If you have things that are not selling, mark it down, and get it out the door to make way for fresh, new inventory! Imagine if El Parasol served up yesterday’s guacamole? We wouldn’t be back and neither would you!

3.  Consistency
You must deliver great service and products each and every time your customer walks in the door.  We call this their “Disneyland Experience” at our retail store. Their experience with our business is only as good as their last visit.  We can lose a great customer because we start to take them for granted, and don’t continue to offer that stellar service that makes them feel special on every visit.

At El Parasol, we can trust that we will always enjoy a delicious meal, and be treated like a VIP. Over the years, we have introduced many friends to the El Parasol Taco Trailer experience, and your stores should be a place that your customer can bring their friends to, knowing they will be treated to an extra-special shopping experience.


Unlike most “Taco Trailers”, El Parasol has the distinction for being featured in Bon Appetit, Travel & Leisure, GQ, Gourmet, New York Times and Sunset throughout a span of over 50 years.

We wouldn’t miss a trip to this little Taco Trailer if we are within a 50 mile radius of Espanola or Santa Fe, New Mexico. What draws us back time after time? They ALWAYS offer up these three distinctive qualities…that perfect trifecta of Exceptional Service, Great Product and Consistency.

Remarkable Retailers
Time after time, their customer experience is truly exceptional, and I hope as “Remarkable Retailers”, that the goal for our stores is to set the bar high, then strive to follow the example of El Parasol… The fabulous little Taco Trailer from Espanola, New Mexico.

Thank you for joining me once again on this road to becoming a “Remarkable Retailer”.  I love to hear from you!  Please leave a comment below with an example of somewhere you consider to be “Remarkable” and maybe our family can include a stop on our next Road Trip!  If you’re ever near Santa Fe, New Mexico, please stop by El Parasol for a treat!

Wishing you success!

Vicki Adrian
El Parasol
603 Santa Cruz Rd
Española, NM 87532

El Parasol has now expanded to six locations in northern New Mexico, including sit down restaurants. Please visit their website for more information.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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