In its two years on the road, Mercado Food Truck has hooked fans throughout Hartford County and beyond with its boldly flavored Spanish-influenced tapas: duck fat potatoes with local farm eggs and bacon chimichurri, queso frito with truffle honey and fennel pollen, pork empanadas with sweet chili sauce.
Later this spring, the husband-and-wife team behind the business will turn their attention to chicken.
Heather and Roy Riedl recently announced plans to open El Pollo Guapo at 1866 Berlin Turnpike in Wethersfield, a restaurant specializing in rotisserie chicken, fresh sides, salads, sandwiches and grain bowls. El Pollo Guapo (or "the handsome chicken" ), with a projected late April opening, will offer a variety of health-conscious takeout options with quick counter service.
The Riedls have young children, and Heather says the new concept came from a desire for healthy and wholesome quick meals. "As a working family, we eat a lot of takeout," she says, particularly grocery-store rotisserie chicken.
The couple has also prepared rotisserie-style items on the truck for sandwiches and salads, and thought it would be a natural fit for their new brick-and-mortar space.
"[These are] healthy, fast options that could be for a single bachelor or a family of five," Riedl says.
El Pollo Guapo will have a gas-fired rotisserie, with chickens available in whole, half or quarter portions. Heather Riedl said a menu of sides would be Spanish-influenced, "ethnic but approachable," like rice, vegetables and plantains. A complete meal with chicken and sides might range from $10 to $14, she said.
The restaurant will be open six days a week (Tuesday through Sunday) to start, serving lunch and dinner. Delivery will be available in Wethersfield and Newington.
The Riedls have a team in place, including kitchen production manager John Bartlett and general manager Tony Evans, to help run the Wethersfield operations alongside a busy planned summer schedule for Mercado. Heather Riedl said the truck menu may serve as a "test kitchen" vehicle to see what people may like.
"I'm sure there will be some things that will be influenced by Guapo on the truck, and I'm sure there will be some things at Guapo that will be influenced by Mercado," she said. "We'll still have some of the same flavors: chimichurri, pickled onion, and the things that people have come to know from our truck that will be cross-utilized at Guapo, because it's just so flavorful and colorful and fits the Spanish theme."
Riedl said truck visitors have been asking for more chicken options, particularly Mercado's most-requested item: arroz con pollo.
"We want to be able to offer that all the time," she says. "Guapo will be a place that we'll be able to do that for sure."
Mercado began vending at farmers' markets and public events in the spring of 2015, with a trailer hitched to a pickup. In 2016, the business graduated to its current full-sized box truck. "This past year was the first year that we hit public events really hard with the truck, so it felt like our first year," Riedl says. "We had a year under our belts kind of understanding food trucks, but it felt new."
Riedl says early response to the restaurant news has been positive. "They're pretty excited about something new and something healthy coming their way," she says of Wethersfield residents. "We want to see how this goes, test it out and make sure we're doing it right. I think there's a need for this in a lot of different towns."
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