Javier Sandes is arguably the most dynamic food vendor ever to smoke up an Emeryville street. In May 2010, Sandes launched Primo's Parrilla, an asador — or grill — like the ones in his native Argentina. Over a mix of almond wood and mesquite, Sandes grilled chicken and tri-tip, served up with chimichurri sauce.
Then things got prickly for street-food vendors in Emeryville, as a handful of brick-and-mortar restaurant owners raised concerns with the chamber of commerce — and ultimately the city council — about what seemed like a poorly regulated explosion in mobile vending. Emeryville revised its mobile-vending ordinance, expanding distance requirements between vendor and vendor and vendor and restaurant. Despite the changes, Sandes and Sere Peterson (his partner in business and otherwise) had already seen the writing on the wall.
Because it didn't operate strictly out of a truck, Primo's Parrilla had been a particular focus of concern by some restaurant owners — not only were there permit issues for cooking over an open flame, but they charged Sandes was essentially setting up a de facto restaurant on the street. It seemed like unfair competition.
In January, Sandes and Peterson killed Primo's, deciding to focus on opening a brick-and-mortar of their own in Oakland. "We didn't want to be in a war with someone," Peterson told WTF in a recent phone interview.
Last week Sandes and Peterson officially launched Javi's Parrilla with a web site link sent through Facebook. "It was bittersweet to close Primo's," Sandes wrote on Javi's web site, "but I felt it was good for me to work towards opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant — a restaurant that doesn't require a parking spot."
As for locations, Peterson said they're still scouting. "We've got a few places in mind in Oakland," she said. "We definitely want to be an Oakland-based business, even when we started Primo's, but grilling on the street was going to be impossible here." The couple has its eye on North Oakland, though it's also considering Uptown — not a bad choice, since Sandes and Peterson are hoping to be in an area that can support lunch, dinner, and late-night service on weekends. Finding a space is a bit trickier with that open grill, plus Sandes wants a place big enough to allow interacting with customers as he grills — just like he did on the street.
Plans call for expanding the menu, adding different cuts of beef and choripan (a traditional Argentinean sausage sandwich) to Sandes' signature chicken and tri-tip. Peterson expects to open the doors in 2012.
Meanwhile, Sandes is continuing to cater private parties and public events like this year's Eat Real Festival, September 23-25, in Jack London Square.