When Maria “Pili” Del Pilar Gonzalez moved to Bloomington 17 years ago, she missed Mexican cuisine from her home of Puebla, Mexico.
To expand the Mexican food scene in Bloomington, Gonzalez opened Pili’s Party Taco food truck in 2017 and a Mexican store this January. Now, she has more than 20 years of food service experience. Her businesses give her the opportunity to share her culture through her culinary skills, Gonzalez said.
“My dream was to bring a little bit of where we are from, where I am from, the poblano food to bring to the people,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez first began making tacos in her home to sell on the weekends. By the time she opened the truck in 2017, she had already gained a customer base and a good reputation among students and community members.
As her home business grew, she said she realized she needed a long-term plan.
“I started to plan,” Gonzalez said. “I said that I won’t take out the food truck if no one recognizes my product, it would cost a lot more work for my business to grow.”
The food truck features food from Puebla-specific cuisine, such as tacos árabes, chiles ahogadas, chalupas and gringas. The truck also offers vegetarian and vegan options.
Pili welcomes her customers with excitement for what they will try.
"Welcome! What would you like today?" Gonzalez asked a visiting student.
"I'm not exactly sure," he said, "What do you recommend?"
"Oh! Anything on the menu. If you like beef, you can try a taco con carne asada."
Gonzalez later said she recommends people start with the common foods such as the aforementioned entree, before attempting the lesser common choices found in America. She feels fulfilled when a customer eats their whole meal and licks their fingers, too.
“For an American to order tacos and say that they like them, this makes me feel like we’re doing something good,” she said.
The recently opened store, Pili’s Party Taco and Deli, compliments the food truck and has thrived throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Gonzalez said. The store sells ingredients used in the food sold at the food truck, and customers can order and dine in the store.
The truck parked in front of the building is used as a kitchen where customers can see their food prepared fresh.
“Eventually, my co-workers came and asked me 'Hey Pili, sell me a packet of tortillas.' 'Hey Pili, sell me a mayonnaise.' 'Hey Pili, sell me this.' and things like that,” Gonzalez said. “Wouldn’t it be best to just open up a store?”
Gonzalez hopes to open more stores and restaurants to form a corporation in different cities.
“I only want to leave a footprint. I mainly want to leave something here,” Gonzalez said. “I like the job and I love talking with people.”
A customer stopping by on his lunch break said getting lunch from Pili's is the highlight of his day.
As a business owner, a mother and Latin American immigrant, Gonzalez has made numerous sacrifices and overcome large challenges from immigration to running a budding business during a pandemic.
Gonzalez said being Latina means being strong and making sacrifices in pursuit of a dream.
“Do what you love because that will lead you to your victory, she said. “You’ll learn, you’ll trip, you’ll fall, you’ll win, you’ll lose, but you’ll reach where you have to be.”
*Editor’s note: The interview with Gonzalez was conducted in Spanish and then translated to English.*