Sisters Laura Sanchez and Alma Rubio have seen a lot in their 39 years of running La Calle Doce in Oak Cliff. But, of all the things that could have thrown them for a loop, they never thought it would be shelter-in-place orders.
“At first, we were flabbergasted,” Rubio says. “We had 60 employees here. We are very worried about them. Then, we had to adapt quickly to takeout and delivery, and that was stressful. We had to learn to do things we weren’t used to.”
Where they used to have four people in the kitchen for each shift, they had to cut back to just one. And the front-of-house was whittled down from as many as 10 to just one.
One of their many worries is getting their old staff back when things do get back to normal. Impeccable service is one of the hallmarks of La Calle Doce. And while she is understanding, Rubio is saddened at the crew members they might lose as they look for other work or move.
For now, they’ve learned how to run a to-go business on a skeleton staff. Rubio’s niece has been helping pull together drink packages and posting them to Facebook to see what works. Packaging all the orders and coordinating the logistics took a few days to work out the kinks, but they figured it out.
Sanchez, who opened this spot with her husband in 1981, says it’s given her a whole new appreciation for fast-food places.
"I never really gave it much thought before, but it's a lot of work," says Sanchez with a light laugh.
When I ordered takeout recently, the process was quick and simple. The whole exchange took only a few minutes, and they all kept as far away as possible and had gloves on.
After we got our food, we reversed out of our space near the front door and did a slow 180 into another parking space on the other side of the lot. Listen. We have four adult-sized kids at home (man, they eat a lot). To-go orders for six just isn’t happening right now. And I learned a long time ago that eating in a car beats being hawked by four bitter children any day (man, they eat a lot).
Obviously, pavement and a brick wall aren’t near as nice as the quaint confines of La Calle Doce, with the spot-on service, homestyle atmosphere and big margaritas. But, you make the best of it. (Man, I really miss restaurants.) We ordered a half-dozen of the nachos especiales, brisket tacos and the California shrimp tacos. It came with chips and a large container of red salsa (plenty for another meal).
The nachos were particularly gooey and delectable. We used extra chips to scoop up the beans and cheese that slid off their original foundations. The mound of guacamole was chunky and bright green. After we polished those off, we set the empty box in a back seat and started round two. Everything was hot, and the charro beans were packed tightly and encased in a sheet of aluminum foil.
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The California shrimp tacos come with a tangy slaw and spicy chipotle cream with a nice slice of avocado. The brisket tacos piled with pico de gallo and guacamole were my favorite.
So until the government tells them otherwise, Sanchez, Rubio and their staff will continue to hone their to-go skills. They’ve ordered no-touch thermometers to check employees’ temperatures for when things do return to normal. And they’re thinking about what six-feet-apart might look like in their dining rooms. They also tried to order plastic face shields but can’t get any until late May.
But Sanchez remains positive.
“Every morning we get here and we’re busy and we just thank God for that,” Sanchez says. “And it’s at times like this you realize who’s with you and who’s not.”