From Truck to Table Service

Berenice Longoria takes a minute between training her servers on new menu items and greeting patrons to wince and rub her belly. She is just 12 days away from the due date of her first child. But she is used to being on her feet, so she continues to work despite it being difficult to reach around her baby bump.

Longoria owned a food truck with her husband for years before transitioning to a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Fort Collins. They did so with very little money and an abundance of grit, which includes the ability to stand for hours at a time.

Opening a restaurant is a big step, even for food service veterans like Longoria. Starting a restaurant can cost anywhere from $175,000 to well over $700,000, according to, given factors such as the location, staffing and equipment. On the other hand, opening a food truck can cost as little as $40,000, the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts states.

Berenice Longoria and Cesar Lopez hold their newborn in their Fort Collins restaurant. Photos by Jordan Secher.

Food truck culture has exploded in recent years, as can be seen with the long lines every Tuesday at the Fort Collins Food Truck Rally during the summer. There is something about dining al fresco in the park or while listening to music or tasting beer that makes a food truck a lovely way to spend an evening.

But for many food truck owners, the goal is to eventually move into their own four walls with a full-service restaurant. This was the case for three locals who made the leap from operating a food truck to opening their own restaurant. They shared their stories with us as well as the things they learned along the way.

The Taco Stop

Back to Longoria and her baby bump. She and her husband, Cesar Lopez, are two of the original food truck operators in Northern Colorado. They remember the days when only a handful of large breweries would bring in food trucks to feed patrons who were lingering over their pints of beer. The couple’s food truck, The Taco Stop, was actually a cart way back in 2012, when food truck culture wasn’t even a thing.

Their cart would set up in Old Town Fort Collins and at New Belgium Brewing Company. They were 19 and 22 years old, respectively, and were known for their steak tacos. On that first cart, steak tacos were all you could get.

“That first year was really tough,” Longoria recalls. “We closed for the winter and reopened in the spring. During our second summer, we added chicken and pork tacos and quesadillas.”

As food trucks became trendier and New Belgium did its own facelift, Longoria and Lopez realized that the cart wouldn’t cut it for much longer. In 2015, they upgraded to a trailer and were able to provide a full menu. They made another upgrade to a full-fledged food truck shortly thereafter.

It was in 2020 that their current restaurant space fell into their laps. They were renting a commissary kitchen in the back half of a building on South College Avenue near antique row in Fort Collins. The gym that inhabited the front half of the building closed, and the landlords asked them if they wanted the front half for a restaurant. They said yes.

But opening a restaurant was vastly different from a food truck, so they decided to dip their toes in a little at a time. They started with take-out in March 2020 (with the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown dictating no indoor dining, it was an easy call to make). They then began dine-in service around August but were shut back down in November due to the pandemic.

The Taco Stop finally reopened in January 2021. However, the starts and stops were a bit of a boon for the couple. They allowed them to get their feet under them, so to speak.

“It worked for us,” Longoria says. “We were brand new and had nothing—not even tables. We just moved everything from the truck inside. We had no money for anything. But people knew us and helped us make it through COVID.”

It took two full years from moving into the space to finally opening as a full-service restaurant. Now they have a large kitchen and staff with a full bar. Longoria has learned how to train servers and mix cocktails while offering the same smiling service she was known for during her earliest days with the taco cart.

While she loves the restaurant, Longoria does miss the simplicity of those food truck days. “We just had more time then,” she says, rubbing the baby that is turning circles inside her. “I regret not taking more time for us.”

Despite their hectic schedule, the couple see blue skies in the future. They plan to move to a more centrally located space in Fort Collins one day and open a second restaurant in Loveland.

Tim Meador pours a Juicy Bits beer.

The Kitchen at WeldWerks Brewing Co.

Tim Meador got his start in fine dining by working in the kitchen at Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar in Fort Collins. He and his original business partner, Brandon Spain, used to run the Jax food cart at events, and it wasn’t long before they realized how much they liked running the cart at local breweries. The wheels began to turn, and they opened The Tramp About food truck in 2015.

The farm beet salad is just one of the delectable dishes served at The Kitchen at WeldWerks.

Their original inspiration was regional American food. They set up the truck at local breweries, including WeldWerks in Greeley, where Meador’s wife, Kristin Popcheff, was one of the first employees. Today she is WeldWerks’ director of experience.

After several years of operation and a pandemic, Meador and Spain decided they were ready to move on. In 2021, they began the process of shutting down The Tramp About. Spain went on to open Knockabout Burgers in Denver and Meador was approached by WeldWerks’ owners with an interesting proposition: to build a kitchen inside the brewery.

Meador was given full reign on the menu, which shows his love for eclectic dishes with fine dining touches.

The rotating menu is small but mighty. It contains eight or so menu items that stick around for a few weeks and a couple specials that change every few days. There are Indian dishes, Americana creations, Asian recipes full of spice and, of course, the iconic double cheeseburger. In just over a year, the kitchen has already gone through more than 75 menu items, which means you’ll never get bored with the food.

Meador echoes the owners of The Taco Spot when he discusses the shift from his food truck to a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Long days and training staff are the two biggest challenges he faces most days. “It was nice having that tight crew [on the truck] where everyone worked together all the time,” he says.

Now he manages a larger staff and has the unique challenge of shaping a kitchen around a taproom, where the beer comes first. But he is willing to roll with the punches while keeping pace with WeldWerks’ lineup of inventive beers.

“It’s a philosophy we take to the menu, too,” he says. “You don’t know what the next thing will be.”

Jake Gargano and Megan Gunter, co-owners of Big Fork at the Olde Course and their two food trucks, Fork Yeah and Little Fork.

Big Fork, Little Fork and Fork Yeah

Jake Gargano and Megan Gunter, husband and wife team from Fork Yeah food truck, took a leap of faith to reach their dream of owning a restaurant. When they were presented with an unexpected opportunity, they didn’t hesitate to grab it.

As they tell it, the couple was on vacation in North Carolina six years ago and commented on the fact that there was no one selling food on the beach. They decided then and there that they would open a pushcart and peddle food to vacationers.

In 2019, they opened a cart serving burgers and hot dogs in Fort Collins. Then they landed a spot on Food Network’s Great American Food Truck Race, where teams compete to sell the most food and win $500,000. If they were to win, Gunter and Gargano dreamed of putting the money toward their first restaurant.

However, those dreams went up in smoke when COVID hit and the show cancelled on them. So, they pivoted and opened their first food truck in 2021. Not long after, they opened a second truck. But they never did make it back to North Carolina.

While shifting from cart to trucks felt like a move in the right direction, they still held onto their dream of owning a restaurant. Then the intrepid young couple, just 30 years old at the time, received an email from the City of Loveland looking for a vendor to open a restaurant in their redesigned clubhouse at the Olde Course.

“We heard about the opportunity in mid-November, and there was a December 2 deadline for applications,” Gargano recalls. “We applied and went through all the steps in December and moved in in January.”

By February 2023, Gargano and Gunter had opened the doors to Big Fork at the Olde Course and moved one of their two food trucks, the Little Fork, over to Cattail Creek Golf Course in Loveland. The original food truck, Fork Yeah, still sets up at events across Northern Colorado.

Big Fork and the two food trucks specialize in burgers and hotdogs, with the Chicago dog and the whiskey burger as the two most popular menu options (along with the truffle fries). But the brick-and-mortar restaurant has allowed them to expand their menu with salads, wraps and more. Due to the seasonality of the golf course, they plan to add a dinner menu during the winter with a more full-service restaurant concept.

The young couple takes the challenge of running two food trucks and a restaurant in stride, with big plans for the future. They’d like to open another restaurant in Fort Collins and are working on expanding the menu. They also hope to open a third truck to serve Denver or Estes Park soon.

“Really, the sky is the limit,” Gunter says.