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Scorching heat leaves Tucson food trucks hungry for customers

Ivan Martinez hangs up a menu on his Mr. Bulgogi food truck.
Posted at 4:49 PM, Jul 10, 2024

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Tucson’s record-breaking heat this week has left food truck owners sweating, and hungry for any business they can get.

Starting up a food truck business for the first time is hard work, especially during a Tucson summer.

That’s what Ivan Martinez is doing, opening Mr. Bulgogi near Broadway and Rosemont last week.

“I’m learning as I go,” Martinez said, noting that it took him a full year to become licensed to run the food truck.

The U.S. Army vet fell in love with bulgogi when he was stationed in Korea. He loved the marinated meat so much, he’s now making it for the lunch rush every day on top of being a full-time field engineer for a government contractor.

“I’m not gonna lie, it’s not easy,” he said.

“We were supposed to open a month ago. But we tried to open, but our A/C broke. So that caught me off guard for a little bit. And took us a while to get the parts for the A/C. But we solved a problem and here we are.”

Even with the air conditioning fixed, a thermometer inside the truck reads 107 as the chefs began cooking Tuesday. The hot grill made the temperature rise to 116 a few minutes later.

But Martinez does it with a smile on his face.

“Just drink enough water,” he said of his strategy. “Stay in the shade any time we can.”

Business has wilted in the heat for nearby food trucks. Foot traffic is scarce in the scorching heat.

Julio Montano of Samurai Teppan Steak and Sushi believes there’s also other reasons for the drop in customers.

“They don’t wanna spend because they wanna spend money on their kids back to school and vacations and stuff like that,” he said.

Montano says events save them in the summer, and make up roughly 80 percent of his summer revenue.

Back at Mr. Bulgogi, the food is the perfect distraction.

“We’re passionate about making bulgogi and we forget about the heat,” Martinez said.

They’re hoping business can heat up once the weather finally cools down.

Ryan Fish is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9 and comes to the Sonoran Desert from California’s Central Coast after working as a reporter, sports anchor and weather forecaster in Santa Barbara. Ryan grew up in the Chicago suburbs, frequently visiting family in Tucson. Share your story ideas and important issues with Ryan by emailing or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.