Sombrero’s Mexican Cuisine and Cafe braved the COVID-19 pandemic shortly after bringing their fresh and homemade food to Charlottesville in 2019. Since then, the restaurant has struggled to keep business active because of the residual fear of indoor eating, especially in close quarters. To remedy this lack of customers, Bernardo and Lucrecia Martinez — the husband-and-wife team who own and manage the restaurant — worked with the University’s consulting club Enactus to bring Sombrero’s Food Truck to the McIntire Amphitheater, Scott Satdium and Lambeth throughout the school week. Sombrero’s began selling food from their food truck on Grounds March 21 thanks to the CIO.
Enactus is a McIntire-affiliated CIO that provides pro-bono consulting services for local companies, such as Northshea and Pearl Island Catering. Enactus has been working closely with Sombrero’s since September 2020, when the group noticed they weren’t faring well economically during the pandemic, giving them general assistance with things such as branding and marketing. Most impactfully, however, was Enactus’s role in getting Sombrero’s a spot at the amphitheater during lunch on the weekdays.
Catherine Morningstar, first-year College student and Enactus team member, worked diligently with University Dining Services and Sombrero’s to obtain the necessary permissions to move the food truck to the amphitheater. Morningstar was a part of the outreach team tasked with finding locations on and off Grounds where Sombrero’s could park their food truck.
Morningstar said the process of working with University Dining was challenging because of their vetting process, including getting rights and permissions to produce food in the food truck, securing a spot at the amphitheater as well as the multitude of documents that the University requires for businesses that want to bring their food trucks to the amphitheater.
“At first it was kind of challenging to get them to agree to bring [Sombrero’s] to Grounds because they kept on saying that there was a really long process of getting the food truck to be vetted, and getting those rights and permission to actually produce their food there,” Morningstar said. “So it took a little bit of time, but after a while, we just continually called them and they were happy to work with us.”
Although the food truck has only been parked on the amphitheater for a few days, Bernardo Martinez already emphasized the impact the amphitheater customers made on his business, as they actually sold out of food on the first day they were parked there.
“It’s been great so far,” Martinez said. “Tuesday we were in the amphitheater, it was very busy and we ran out of food … [this] was a long process, but it was worth it.”
The food is prepared each morning at Sombrero’s restaurant location. Then it is packed into hot boxes to be taken to the food truck to ensure that all of the food is fresh and healthy. The only food that is not prepared ahead of time are the taquitos because they are freshly deep fried in the air fryer on site so that they are still crunchy and fresh when served to customers.
“Whatever we sell on campus has been prepared in those early hours. We come to the restaurant early morning and we cook the beans and the rice, [making sure] the sauces and the pico de gallo and everything [else] that we offer has been prepared [in the] early morning so we can assure that everything is healthy and tasty and fresh,” Martinez said.
Bernardo and Lucrecia emphasized the importance of cooking healthy, homemade and authentic Mexican food. They explained that a lot of people have certain misconceptions about the health of Mexican food, but that all of their food is homemade and fresh, which people always notice when they visit Sombrero’s. They also said that all of the food they sell, they eat themselves.
Their two most popular dishes are the Burros Bañados — Bernardo’s personal favorite — and the Taquitos Bañados — Lucrecia’s personal favorite — but their menu includes an array of offerings for everyone. The Sombrero’s menu features a “Build-Your-Own” option for $10, starting with a bowl, burrito, taco salad, quesadilla, huarache, tacos or grande nachos. There are also pre-selected dishes, ranging from breakfast burritos and omelets to empanadas and tamales.
The entrepreneurial couple praised Enactus for the help that they have given them during a time of economic setbacks and business difficulties. They highlighted that the Enactus team members were willing to help in any way possible and were always coming up with innovative and new ideas to improve the business.
“If it wasn’t for [Enactus], we wouldn’t be on campus. Simple,” Martinez said. “The first group [we worked with] set up the beginning of what we have now, and the second group, they've been following the same standards that the guys did before. So I mean both of them are doing a great job. They did a great job and the second group is doing an excellent job.”
The pair also emphasized their thanks to the University student and faculty community that has shown them so much support during the short time that they’ve been at the amphitheater. Students love the food so much that they often come up to Martinez after they’ve eaten to compliment the delicious and authentic food.
To visit the Sombrero’s food truck, one can drop by the amphitheater Tuesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Scott Stadium on Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Lambeth on Monday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Sombrero’s restaurant is located on 112 W Main Street Suite 6 and is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.