Carlo Chalisea served Don Lucho’s first sandwich off the grill himself in August of 2013. Now, two years later, the 30-year-old Seattle-based chef and entrepreneur is slanging his imaginative Rococo and Aji Amarillo-smothered Chicharron and Lomo Saltado creations to sandwich-loving Seattleites all over town as many as five days a week, and has trouble keeping up with demand even after hiring multiple employees.
As one of the only authentic Peruvian food options in an area where the South American country’s cuisine is still largely unknown, the mobile sandwichera, which is named after Chalisea’s father, has been growing apace with the local food truck scene as a whole, which exploded following the Seattle City Council’s unanimous vote to allow mobile food vendors to sell on public streets in 2011 (the state’s legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012 couldn’t have hurt things, either).
At least some of the sandwich truck’s growth is the result of carving out a unique niche within the city’s larger mobile food community by way of standing gigs at local breweries, which have, like the trucks, been cropping up like wildfire in recent years.
Along with this fortuitous strategy, the majority of his savings, and good old fashioned hard work, Chalisea credits Don Lucho’s success to innovative takes on his mom’s family recipes, and a passionate dream to bring his Peruvian culture and cuisine to his hometown.
Carlo in the Kitchen (Photo Courtesy of Don Lucho’s)
Name: Carlo A. Chalisea
Location: Seattle, WA
PayScale: What do you do?
Chalisea: Founder/Owner/Chef at Don Lucho’s food truck
PayScale: What makes Don Lucho’s your dream job?
Chalisea: I’m from Peru and it has always been my dream to share my country’s culture and cuisine with others. I find it extremely special that I can do so in such a far away place as Seattle where Peruvian food is still virtually unknown.
PayScale: How did you end up here?
Chalisea: Living in Peru between the ages of 9 to 15 and then traveling there on numerous occasions has been a key factor. Several times I’ve brought friends from Seattle to Peru, and a few people mentioned how successful a Peruvian sandwich shop would be in Seattle. The idea grew and grew on me and I eventually made it a reality.
PayScale: What is unique about what you do?
Chalisea: The Seattle food truck scene is growing and I think we’ve created what is a unique model with local breweries. We’ve gotten a reputation as the regular food option at places like Hilliard’s in Ballard. We are also some of the only Peruvian food in Seattle. Our monthly Latin Night at Hilliard’s is huge! A Latin band performs and tons of people come out!
PayScale: Don Lucho’s is named after your dad, and your parents lives in Peru now. You’ve also got a huge following in the Latin community in Seattle. How has your family and Peruvian culture inspired what you do in the big picture?
Chalisea: My father came to Seattle looking for a better life in the 1960s without knowing the language or what he would do for work. All he really had was a place to stay and his dreams, which he planned to accomplish somehow. What followed was a beautiful struggle in which he would learn new skills and a new language and adapt to a new society. In that day to day struggle he gave truth to his name “Lucho,” which means to work hard and struggle for something you believe in. I decided to honor my father by naming the business after him. The name has a double meaning for me as well, as I knew I was up for a challenge. In a sense I was following in my father’s footsteps as I was venturing into the food business knowing virtually nothing about it. I was just a guy who had good recipes and wanted to share the food with the world. These recipes were passed on to me by my mother and aunts. I incorporated my own twist by traveling through Peru looking for the best dishes that I could adapt into sandwiches.
Don Lucho’s Sandwiches (Photo Courtesy of Don Lucho’s)
PayScale: What interesting or unexpected jobs have prepared you for this role?
Chalisea: I worked construction before and during Don Lucho’s early days to save up enough money to open the business and keep myself afloat while Don Lucho’s got off the ground. This meant going to do manual labor every day at 5 a.m. and then going home to the kitchen to prep the food late at night after I got home. It has meant a lot of long days and nights – sometimes 16 hours straight!
PayScale: What’s an average day on the job look like for you?
Chalisea: Go to the store to buy the day’s food; prep all of the meat, produce, and sauces; cook all of the raw meat that I previously prepped. Check emails and put in bids for possible catering jobs and events. Update where the truck will be next on www.SeattleFoodTruck.com and all of our social media outlets. Set up and sell food at a local brewery or farmer’s market. After vending comes our favorite part, which is cleaning up and washing all utensils!
The Don Lucho’s Cart at a Local Seattle Brewery (Photo Courtesy of Don Lucho’s)
PayScale: Are there any challenges about your job that may surprise people?
Chalisea: These days, the biggest challenge is finding time for myself because I work between 14-16 hours everyday.
PayScale: Describe a moment when the hard work has really paid off.
Chalisea: Last year I reached out to a famous Peruvian chef by the name of Gaston Acurio through his Facebook page. I had noticed he would give shout outs to Peruvian restaurants around the world. This was his way of promoting Peruvian cuisine around the world. So, I sent Gaston a message explaining my vision with Don Lucho’s, along with my website and social media links. To my surprise, the very next morning I was on blast on his very own official Facebook page! It was one of the busiest days for my e-mail inbox and social media! That was a great moment.
PayScale: Best word to describe how you work.
PayScale: What’s your workspace setup like?
Chalisea: Truck, grill, cooking utensils, and tons of food in the middle of a lively brewery. On the best days, it also includes a line of people waiting to order Don Lucho’s sandwiches!
Carlo and a happy customer (Photo Courtesy of Don Lucho’s)
PayScale: Tool or device you couldn’t live without?
Chalisea: A sharp knife.
PayScale: What’s your best time-saving shortcut?
Chalisea: Four hours of sleep a night.
PayScale: Did you go to college? How did school prepare or not prepare you for what you’re doing now?
Chalisea: I’ve taken a few community college classes but my real education came from spending time with my mom in the kitchen and the work ethic instilled in me by my dad. Also self-teaching and experimenting on my own with everything from bread to sauces to the perfect Chicharron, which is a pork lightly fried with spices and seasonings. In other words, good old-fashioned trial and error!
Carlo and his Mom in the Kitchen (Photo Courtesy of Don Lucho’s)
PayScale: What’s next on the horizon for you?
Chalisea: Expanding Don Lucho’s. We’re booking more regular nights at local breweries. We’re also working on some exciting collaborations with local musicians in the Latin community. We’ll announce more info about that soon. My big dream is expand Don Lucho’s to have a relationship with not only Peru in Seattle but also Seattle in Peru! I want to do this by setting up a culinary tour business in Lima. Don Lucho’s will send customers from Seattle to Lima to experience Peruvian cuisine in the capital, where a lot of tourists have a hard time finding something safe and fun to do since the city is so big.
PayScale: What would you tell someone who wanted to follow the same path as you?
Chalisea: Be persistent and understand that your life will not be the same for several reasons (and possibly several years!). Find out for yourself!
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