This Commerce City couple own and operate a food truck dedicated to asphyxiated meat and potatoes. El Jefe’s Smothered Brats and Tots launched in April 2019, the couple’s first business venture. As the couple spent years in the corporate world – Renee Ruybal as an optician and Ryan Lopez previously in IT – the monotony grew old.
They took a jump and opened the truck to express their creativity and make people happy. Although none of them worked in a professional kitchen, Lopez worked at his aunt’s Lakewood Bakery for years, catapulting him from amateur to home cook. Since sausages are one of Lopez’s favorite foods, it was only right that the truck had a menu full of them. The price was originally for burgers, but the cost turned out to be too high and with all the unique toppings – each burger got a little too messy.
“We chose brats because not too many food trucks had really good ones,” said Lopez.
As for the Tater Tots, the duo came up with a couple of different side options when Ruybal came up with the idea of strangled dead. With such well-made crispy potatoes, the topping options were endless. El Jefe’s tots are not like the others except for the shape. These potatoes are not small cylinders, they are square.
“We use corn starch as a binding agent instead of flour. This makes them a lot crispier on the outside and a lot cloudy on the inside, ”said Lopez.
Interestingly, the duo and one of their engineering friends built a special cutter that could produce around 3,000 dead bodies in just two hours. With an abundance of crispy potatoes to wear, the menu shows so many creative ways to gobble them up. From Kings Tot – topped with homemade pork sausage country sauce, bacon and Cheddar cheese – to Elote Tot – topped with homemade grilled street corn salad, avocado and coriander sauce and Cotija cheese.
Most of El Jefe’s recipes are made by collecting custom flavors from the team’s favorite foods such as chicken tikka masala, sushi, and jalapeno poppers. The rest is influenced by family recipes, including green chilli from Lopez’s grandma, country sauce from his great-grandmother, and red chilli from Ruybal’s family.
Just as popular as the little ones, the smothered sausages are also reminiscent of familiar flavors. The menu includes Polidori sausage or Nathan’s beef dogs with around six staple foods These include a Big Popper Dog – topped with jalapeño cream cheese, bacon, jalapeño rings and a raspberry jalapeño sauce, and a Fuego Dog – with homemade Colorado Pork Green Chili, fresh jalapeños, cheddar cheese and El Jefe’s Green Goblin Hot Sauce .
The team uses as many locally sourced ingredients as possible, visits the local farmers markets for fresh vegetables, and uses Harvest Moon for bread rolls. When it comes to unique dogs like the Big Popper, the team just takes some of their favorite snacks, breaks them down, and adds key ingredients to the dog.
“We thought jalapeno poppers were good for a dog, after adding the jalapeno cream cheese and bacon he needed some sweetness,” said Lopez.
This is where the creation of the raspberry jalapeno sauce came into play. From then on, the team set about making homemade hot sauce that can be ordered by the bottle – Green Goblin (pineapple habañero) and Timid Gringo (mango jalapeño). Although the menu is known for its funky condiments and sausages, it is also popular with the various diet options. Not only is Ruybal a vegetarian, but many of the bartenders in the brewery had special dietary restrictions.
“We started making vegan products for them and they became popular so we kept them on the menu. We found that vegans don’t get a lot of fast comfort food. We try to make it taste as close to meat as possible, ”said Lopez.
The same menu items offered for meat eaters have been duplicated with meatless chorizo from Simple Truth, a meatless beer bratwurst from Tofurky, almond-based cream cheese, gluten-free tater tots, and the option to replace a roasted poblano pepper with buns.
Monthly specials vary, including a hottodoggu (sushi dog) topped with sweet teriyaki sauce, wasabi seaweed, pickled ginger, crispy onion straws, and sriracha mayonnaise. This sushi dog is also served vegan.
While the last year proved to be a struggle for many, the El Jefe team took every day with every step.
“There were a lot of adjustments, we had a schedule from March to November with a daily event. Then everyone left. We started creating delivery and scan codes in breweries. We started with apartment events and added the option to pre-order through Truckster. We also parked in front of grocery stores to offer discounted groceries to staff and gave free groceries to medical professionals, ”Lopez said.
As for this year’s plans, the team is hoping to get back to a normal schedule and get involved in some minor socially distant events. For the distant future, Lopez hopes to develop a program that will help other food truckers with a community full of resources.
“We want to open a shop to help others start food trucks. With guides, rules, information on tax licensing and how to find employees if necessary, ”said Lopez.
When things got tough at the start of the pandemic, Lopez and Ruybal used this business as a creative medium. Developing new recipes and thinking about different foods that usually do not go together influenced their creativity and became a theme for their life – they push the boundaries and take the necessary risks to make their dreams come true.
“Our children are our greatest inspiration. America isn’t just about going to work. We want to show our children that they can have a dream and live a good life, ”said Lopez.
El Jefe is an extension of the duo’s creativity. On its secret menu, products made from homemade carnitas tacos, sweet potato tots and Colorado poutine tots with green chili, sausage sauce, bacon and cheddar cheese are sporadically presented. The secret menu is only available online.
El Jefe is open Wednesday to Friday from 5pm to 9pm and Saturday from 12pm to 9pm. The schedule for each week can be found online here.