Moctezuma’s Restaurants’ “ghost kitchen” sets up shop at 7655 Sunset Highway. Courtesy photo

Moctezuma’s Restaurants’ “ghost kitchen” sets up shop at 7655 Sunset Highway. Courtesy photo

Moctezuma’s fires up its ‘ghost kitchen’ on the Island

‘The response has just been amazing’ owner says.

Moctezuma’s Restaurants has added Mercer Island to its location list by floating a pop-up “ghost kitchen” into the area.

After purchasing and retrofitting a food truck, owner Bernie Garcia and his crew set up their mobile kitchen at 7655 Sunset Highway, and they’re offering take-out and free delivery from UberEats, Door Dash and GrubHub from 4-8 p.m. daily.

Moctezuma’s employees began firing up their high-quality, fresh and authentic Mexican fare on the Island on Dec. 9 and things have looked promising from the get-go.

“The response has just been amazing. We’ve got a lot of people already ordering a couple of times in the last six days,” Garcia said at press time. “We’re gonna keep going as long as the community embraces us, and who knows? maybe there could be an opportunity for us to establish a brick and mortar location in the future.”

Garcia said that since restaurants have been hit hard during the pandemic, Moctezuma’s began its pivoting plan to open a mobile kitchen a few months ago to bring their food to customers. They searched for a spot somewhere between Seattle and Bellevue, and the Mercer Island location came onto their radar.

Along with setting up shop to draw Islanders to its truck, “we were also able to get some of Seattle and some of Bellevue as well because of the radius that the delivery companies are able to service,” said Garcia, adding that they made an agreement with the Chevron gas station owner to do business on the lot. The paperwork is done mostly with King County and they’ve complied with health department codes and worked with the labor and industries department, Garcia noted.

“Going through this whole (COVID) situation, it’s really made us look at our concept and our business model. We’re looking at other opportunities and other ways to be able to survive this and to even kind of create a new business model,” he said.

Initially, they thought the majority of their business would be from deliveries, but people have descended upon the truck. Moctezuma’s plans to operate on the Island for an indefinite amount of time, Garcia said. Its employees travel to town from Seattle and south King County for the four-hour dinner service. Most of the family recipes have been used for generations, and the food is cooked to order on the truck.

Moctezuma’s has restaurants in Tacoma, Gig Harbor, Tukwila and Silverdale, all of which are currently operating outdoor patios and offering take-out and delivery. Garcia noted that an Eastside brick and mortar location is in the works for 2021.

Garcia’s father Arturo launched Moctezuma’s in 1978 in Tacoma and Bernie moved into the owner’s role a decade ago. Bernie said they’ve got a solid reputation and stay in touch with customers via social media, especially with restrictions frequently changing during the pandemic.

They went into community service mode when COVID hit by feeding more than 5,000 frontline workers and inspiring friends and family members to get involved. They launched a GoFundMe page and raised $7,500, and some nonprofits wrote them checks totaling more than $25,000 for frontline workers’ meals.

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