In March of 2020, Eric Sanchez arrived in New Mexico with his family and his food truck, Cubish. Sanchez has been in the food truck business for over 20 years and started in Knoxville, Tennessee selling various ethnic foods. Him and his family live in Datil where he has a telescope that he built, a gym and a professional recording studio. When he’s not selling food, Sanchez is a drummer and has been part of 11 bands.
How did you get into the food truck business?
In 1996, I got a culinary degree with the Arts Institute of Atlanta. While I was in school, I got a trucking job and fell in love with the road and hauled military freight for 20 years. When I finally decided to get off the road because the regulations got crazy, I decided to get back into food. At the time, when I got off the road, I lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the food truck scene was just starting off. There were only 12 trucks so I was No. 13. There are now 240 trucks in Knoxville. I was one of the old-timers, they said…
I like the interaction with people. I don’t want to be in the back. I don’t want to be in the restaurant. I’ve worked in several pretty large restaurants in Miami, when I lived in Florida. I didn’t like the screaming and the heat and people all bunched up together. There is a lot of money in food trucking, especially when things are open. I paid cash for my house with festival money. It’s really lucrative. It’s a lot of work.
People think being self-employed, running around and being all cutesy in a food truck is easy, but it’s a lot of work. You’re working all the time. When you’re not working, you’re thinking about your next gig or buying new product for your business or trying to network and all that. I’ve really enjoyed talking to the people and cooking food.
How did you create Cubish?
My dad was Armando Sanchez who was a Cuban second generation right off the boat. My mom was a Scots-Irish woman whose grandparents were immigrants… It’s kind of a crazy mashup of two different (cultures). My menu wasn’t as ethnic as it was when I was in Knoxville because people don’t seem to understand what I’m trying to do here, but they are learning. I started as a fusion of Cuban and Irish and I’ve adopted that it’s kind of my personality. I drink like an Irishman and I cuss like a Cuban. It’s in my food as well.
How did you create the name ‘Cubish?’
Cuban and Irish. If you look under Urban Dictionary, it does mean a Cuban-Irishman. It stuck and no one was doing it. If you Google it now, it will come up in Knoxville, Tennessee, because we were really popular there. The internet never lies. All the reviews are still up. All the places we used to set up (and) talked about us are still there. There are still a couple of festivals around there we are still invited to, if they ever open up again, that I drive to in Tennessee because the money is ridiculous.
What is on your menu?
Currently, Cuban sandwiches – Cuban bread was really hard to come by and in New Mexico I don’t cook my own Cuban bread because we live at 8,000 feet and it doesn’t rise right. We do Bangers and Mash and there’s an argument whether it came from Ireland or England. Today (Saturday), we had Indian food… We are going to bring back the Shepherds Pie because we found someone local who does lamb. The difference between Shepherds Pie and Cottage Pie — Cottage Pie is beef, Shepherds Pie is lamb because shepherds don’t herd cows.
How did you create your menu?
I like to cook what I eat. I was missing Miami at the time when I started this concept and I wasn’t willing to drive down there because that’s too many people. I know how to cook really good Cuban food… We are building a stand-in unit so I will be able to legally sell a more diverse menu. You can expect more Cuban food and more Irish and English food as soon as I get my stand-in unit. The stand-in unit is going to legally allow me with the State of New Mexico to not have scrutiny over my menu. I’ll have bubble tea… I’m missing the fusion food. I don’t miss the city at all, but I miss the diversity of food. If I can’t find it, I’m going to make it.
What are some of the challenges of doing a food truck?
We were never shut down during COVID-19. It had started before we moved from Tennessee to here and there were no rules in place because we have always been carry-out only. We’ve always been contactless. We’ve always had square readers that you can do Apple Pay and whatnot.
The biggest challenges? The loud vehicles, and people not realizing you are open the same day. I open at 11 a.m. every day and people always come by at 9:30 a.m. and ask if I’m open. I talk to them anyway. The other challenge is Tennessee was very easy to get legal in.
New Mexico is challenging because they didn’t want to open new food service businesses during the middle of a pandemic. I have only done Zoom meetings. I’ve never been physically inspected. None of the restaurants in this area are being physically inspected, they are mostly Zoom meetings, which to me is not a recipe for sanitation and safety. It was very hard to get legal, even though I had talked to the state before I moved here before the pandemic. They were cool with me coming out and doing my food thing.
Once I arrived, they were like, ‘oh no, no, we have to make sure this is in order and this is in order.’ Since I serve from a cart, which is a non-enclosed area, the rules are completely different for a cart than a food truck or trailer. Another reason we are doing the stand-in unit is I can have my refrigeration.
What are some of the positives about doing a food truck?
Setting your own hours. It sounds lazy because most people say I’m going to set my own hours and do what I want. Usually when people tell me that is the reason for getting self-employed, that screams laziness to me. Being able to only be restricted by how much money I can make by how active I am. I’ve set up at Calvary Church in Albuquerque for the women’s groups. Even at 25 percent occupancy, there are 350 people there to feed so it’s a lot of money and you get to meet new people and hear about Jesus, of course.
The college has been having me out throughout the entire pandemic, which is an opportunity within itself. Not only do I get to meet new people and network, I get to listen to live music where no one is having live music and make a living that way. This is the first time since I’ve started food trucking that I’ve sat on the corner waiting for people. I normally have something to do. Just being limited by how good I am at networking. If I’m short on a bill, instead of sitting at home pondering, what I’m going to do is I find someplace to set up or a gig or something.
There is a car show coming up in two weeks The guy that is having me for the car show is going to barter working on my van for the barbeque sandwiches I’m feeding the car show participants. You can’t do that with a real job. That’s fun.
If I want something that I haven’t had to eat in a while, I’ll make a huge pan of meatloaf or lasagna or something. I’ll feed what I don’t save for myself to my customers because my food is legit. That is something you couldn’t do even if you were in a restaurant situation. You don’t get to choose what you are cooking if you are working for somebody else. I’ve always liked the independence. I’ve been self-employed for 25 years one way or another. I don’t know if I could work for somebody else.
What festivals have you been part of?
I’ve done Bonnaroo, which is a huge music event in Tennessee. It’s really expensive and there’s a lot of inappropriate behavior going on there, but there’s so many people. I’ve done the Cuban Sandwich Competition in Tampa. I do German Fest in Tennessee. I’ve paid for every Disney Cruise and every Royal Caribbean Cruise and every Disney trip with that event only. I’m missing those sized events. When I moved out here, I had Silver City Blues. I had Hatch Chile. I’m on the list of vendors again this year for the Balloon Festival. If I get to do that, it’s a lot of money.
There are a couple other things that I’ve looked at in the area. There was a Science Fest here as well. I did a lot of the brewery circuit when I was in Tennessee. If you look at the front of my cart, that is only one-third of the breweries I used to set up in front of.
How did you end up in New Mexico?
When I was 12, and I’m 50 now, I built my first telescope. I do near-earth asteroid studies and I’m a deep-sky observer. I don’t use photography equipment because I just have massive instruments so I can do visual observing. I use the Dark Sky Association satellite imagery to find my land. It was between here or there is an astronomy village south of Silver City on the 180 and I looked at land there. I chose Datil because it’s just so quiet and wide-open spaces. I bought the land up there with the intention of making money doing festivals and of course, COVID-19 came and kicked me around.
When did you come to New Mexico?
Last March. I’ve been here since March. We went on a cruise in January last year and when we came back, they were talking about this bug over in China and it didn’t seem concerning at the time. My house went under contract in January and because they couldn’t find anyone to do underwriting because everyone was closed, it took 72 days to close on my house. By the time I got out here, it was mid-March. I slept in the Comfort Inn for about two months while they were setting my house up. I started setting up at Radio Shack in April or May.
How did you get into astronomy?
I’ve always been fascinated with the night sky. The places I’ve lived most of my life, you couldn’t see most of it due to light pollution. Being from South Florida and spending most of my teenage years in The Keys and the Everglades fishing, hunting and drinking, the night sky has always captivated me. I had a really, really large influence from the Southern Cross Astronomical Society, which is the largest South Florida astronomical society. There were some older guys who saw that I was into stuff that I shouldn’t be and they introduced me to telescopes. I had a sense of duality when I was in Florida — the rebellious teenage skateboarder and then the guy that hung out with 50-year-olds that were into star observing.
I built my first telescope because I was broke, not because I wanted to build one. Back then, it was a lot cheaper to build a telescope than it was to buy optics or a complete telescope. I got hooked and the two things that have lasted the entire time I have been alive is drumming because I was a professional drummer and I still drum and recording and astronomy. Those are my two big (interests) and the gym.
Do you still build telescopes?
I do. I have a telescope in my yard that is bigger than this minivan. It takes an 11-foot ladder to stand on top of it. You can see most things with the naked eye that takes other people minutes to get on and photograph. It’s the reason I moved out here. My house, the Milky Way casts a shadow on the ground — it’s dark out there.
How did you get into drumming?
I’ve always been a drummer. I was probably the baby that kicked to time inside. I’ve always been drawn to rhythm. I was raised Cuban, but most of my influences in drumming are either Jazz or Afro-Cuban music. More African-based percussion and whatnot. When I was in the skateboarder stage, I was in a thrash band. I moved to Chicago for a couple years while I was trying to get my head straight while I was in my 20s and I played in a death metal band there. Then, my life changed significantly and I got into jazz and fusion. I’ve probably played in 11 bands since I started drumming.
Now, I have a studio in my house. I have all my professional equipment still set up in my house. I have an observatory in my yard. I have a drum studio in my house and I have a gym that most gyms are jealous of on my property. That’s why I’ve been able to keep sane during COVID-19. Between working out, playing drums, and looking at the night sky, I’ve been alright.
If there was one thing you could change about Socorro, what would it be and why?
The town is nice, but I think there are a lot of things preventing it from being bigger than what it is. I see a cute little town in the middle of the desert with a bunch of happy people and a whole bunch of run-down empty buildings. Instead of saying there is no money here so don’t reopen the buildings, I say pump the money into the buildings that are dilapidated to get people to want to come here. Don’t make it look like everyplace else, not to make it grow and big, which a lot of people resist and I understand that. There is no Chick-Fil-A here. There is no Wendy’s here. I know that’s just food and that’s competition to me, but you can always tell the demographic by what is here. We are nowhere near a Home Depot or a Lowes or anything. Big box stores destroy small businesses, but you have the Smiths down here and when I look at the Smiths store, it should be a Planet Fitness…
I haven’t met anyone I don’t like in Socorro and I haven’t met anyone who gives me a hard time in Socorro. It just needs a little love, I think, which usually takes money.