David Rodriguez is moving onward, upward and in a lot of different directions
The Madison entrepreneur has jumped into the driver’s seat of his food truck and let the winds of change, circumstance and opportunity lead the way.
David Rodriguez has jumped into the driver’s seat of his food truck and let the winds of change, circumstance and opportunity lead the way. The 38-year-old business owner, executive chef and investor attributes his blossoming career in Madison’s competitive food scene to his appetite for autonomy. His tale of culinary success starts in a humble kitchen on wheels, but it’s led him to own and operate a handful of ventures known to many area foodies and casual tourists looking for a simple yet inspired bite.
Rodriguez was born in Texas and moved with his family to Madison at 3 years old. After waiting tables and attending culinary school, Rodriguez purchased the Melted food truck from its previous owner in 2015 and spent that first summer selling craft grilled cheese sandwiches on Capitol Square and at local music festivals. The business continued to expand, even vending at Eaux Claires Music Festival in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Organizers asked if he knew anyone who could sell tacos in 2017.
“My sister had gotten married the summer prior, and we had done tacos for her wedding,” Rodriguez says. “And so I thought to myself, ‘Why would I go hunt down another vendor when we have the capacity to do this?’ So I was like, ‘Yeah, we’ll do the tacos.’ ” That’s when Rodriguez launched his second venture, Taco Local. He was invited back the next year to serve his tacos to music fans.
Slinging grilled cheeses and tacos, Melted has vended at festivals, catered weddings and opened a location at the Grateful Shed Truckyard in Wisconsin Dells. Then Rodriguez started renovating a bus in 2017 for what is now The International — a “fine dining” food truck that uses local ingredients. With so many projects underway, International Catering Collective was born to become the parent company for all of Rodriguez’s businesses.
With the damage COVID-19 inflicted on the service and hospitality industries, Rodriguez faced several challenges. Going into 2020, Rodriguez purchased Gaylord Catering Service Inc., a decision intended to support his rapidly expanding businesses. While the transaction provided plenty of room to grow — an additional 9,000 square feet of commercial kitchen space — it left Rodriguez undercapitalized in the first quarter, just before the nationwide shutdown.
Rodriguez puts it bluntly. “My business should have failed during the pandemic,” he says.
If he could come up with the money for payroll every two weeks, it would mean he’d have another two weeks in business — but nothing was guaranteed beyond that. Sometimes, outstanding invoices would get paid and the money would carry him to the next pay period. But even when the cash flow ceased, Rodriguez did all he could to make sure his employees stayed paid — he liquidated his retirement and his investments, and even sold his car.
After months of barely getting by, Rodriguez made it out of the pandemic with two new revenue streams that he hadn’t had previously: The International food truck had found its way to the east side as a daily drive-up dining spot, and Rodriguez opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant, Taco Local, on Williamson Street in March, with future plans to renovate the space above it into a speakeasy. Rodriguez also hints that fans of Melted may get their brick-and-mortar restaurant in the future — possibly along the East Washington Avenue corridor.
What started as a single food cart on the Square is on its way to becoming an investment, consulting and hospitality enterprise, which is exactly the direction Rodriguez wants to go with his new business, Rodriguez Holdings and Hospitality. With so many projects underway, and no plans to slow down, Rodriguez says he hopes not only to grow his business, but also to provide secure and meaningful career opportunities for his employees.
“One thing that I think that a lot of people don’t know is that we’re a company that works very hard, and is actively working now, to be one of the top employers in Madison,” Rodriguez says.
Rodriguez works alongside his wife, Sara, and the pair seems happy to still be on the road to their destination.
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