Phoenix is home to a wide array of food trucks; these are their stories. To read the last installment of the Phoenix Food Trucks series, click here.
The smell of teriyaki chicken and onion relish filled the air as customers gathered on Wednesday in a parking lot around a food truck and its owner, whose tag line read “Japanese engine, Mexican vehicle.”
A red and purple truck with a logo that says “Shinobu Diego’s tacos y burritos” is a new addition to the Phoenix Street Food Coalition, offering Japanese and Mexican cuisines fused together in a simple but unique package.
Owner and chef Marc Shelton, 38, of Scottsdale usually cooks in the truck’s kitchen during Food Truck Fridays and the Downtown District Food Court, while his 59-year-old retired mother, Mary Shelton, stands outside and takes orders.
Marc Shelton’s love for cooking stemmed from his first job working in a kitchen when he was 16 years old. For 15 years, he learned to cook from training at mom-and-pop shops, Applebee’s and the Hard Rock Cafe.
“I want to make my mark on the world,” Shelton said. “Certain corporate places aren’t for creative people like myself and I couldn’t sit in a cubicle for 20 more years.”
Shelton said seeing the food trucks in Denver and traveling to different cities to check out the food-truck scene is what gave him the idea to put Japanese and Mexican food together.
“I got the idea of Japanese tacos from watching trucks in LA where they had Korean tacos and Denver where they had regular tacos and I took the whole vision and put them together,” Shelton said.
Shelton did his own research to see what different food trucks were doing in different cities. He said when the first food trucks were starting in Denver, he had already been researching the craft for two years.
Along with seeing different food trucks, Shelton attributes being Japanese as his main reason for getting into Japanese cuisine.
“Mostly it was me just being Japanese and my love for the Japanese food and culture and just trying to stay true to myself,” Shelton said.
Shelton originally wanted to open his own restaurant, but couldn’t because of the high costs. He currently rents his food truck at $1,500 a month so he can save money to eventually own his own restaurant, he said.
Opening a restaurant in Scottsdale or Tempe and another in Denver or Los Angeles are Shelton’s future goals. Even then, there would still be a food truck for events, he said.
The menu offers four tacos: teriyaki-marinated chicken, ginger-marinated roasted pork, teriyaki-citrus-marinated beef and a vegetarian taco with teriyaki-marinated potatoes.
From the marinades and sauces to onions and chicken, everything he makes on the truck is from scratch, Shelton said.
“I’ve been following them since day one,” said Jason Debusman, 35, from Scottsdale. “I like the flavors. It has an obscene amount of flavors and the vegetables are always crunchy. Marc works his ass off.”
Along with Japanese tacos, Shelton offers snacks, such as Japanese cookies and crackers. Shelton said he offers Japanese snacks because most of the food trucks have Cheetos and chips, and he wanted to do something different.
Shelton’s food truck has only been open since February 1, and like any business, it’s a struggle, he said.
“Business is slow, but it’s because we’re new,” Shelton said. “Tempe and Central Phoenix are good places to go. It’s such a unique food that people aren’t willing to try it in certain areas.”
Scottsdale resident Jim Keegan, 43, goes to Shinobu Diego’s every time it’s at the Bard Peripheral Vascular building in Tempe.
“It’s innovative and different and its pretty creative bringing together two cuisines, I’ve had it where its not done well and this is actually done really well,” Keegan said.
Shelton said his favorite part about having a food truck is being his own boss and determining his destiny.
“It’s up to me to make this what it is, I’m determining my limits and I think that’s the greatest thing ever,” Shelton said. “I know I have something to offer and I want to bring something great to the table.”
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