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Community Highlights: Meet Arlene Villarino of OTRO

Today we’d like to introduce you to Arlene Villarino, Co-Founder of OTRO.

Hi Arlene, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Hello everyone – I’m Arlene, Co-Founder and owner of OTRO, mother of three kiddos, a kune kune pig, and a pup. Ride or die and grounding force to an extreme hobbyist and now businessman. I spend a lot of my time exploring good music, art, and all foodie things; I can proudly say the latter is now part of my job. Additionally, I am an experimental illustrator with a low success rate (working on it), and a serial coffee sipper mastering the art of reheating.
You will typically find me in my makeshift home office in San Diego, answering emails and designing. Or at one of our Food Truck stops, taking photos for our social media, and making sure our guests and team are taken care of.

I never worked in the restaurant industry, nor did I ever imagine it. I come from the design, sales, and action sports world, but somehow God knew where he was leading me and why. All these years I was learning the tricks to build my own business, and I’m so grateful for that. My husband, on the other hand, has worked many years in the food industry, and just as I did, always dreamed of opening a business. These two different spectrums truly helped us create OTRO and develop our concept, branding, as well as our operations.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Struggles are lessons, and there are plenty in the entrepreneur world. When we first opened OTRO, we had a difficult time finding a stable place where we could sell. Many of our emails were left unanswered and doors were closed, but giving up was not an option.

Our business consisted of setting up shop at whichever brewery gave us a chance to operate. We were lucky that local breweries needed to sell food to stay open, and by chance alone, we began to fill in at different breweries when their food vendors would cancel. We opened our first service at Fall Brewing and on one of those occasions, we started selling with NOVA Easy Kombucha in Ocean Beach. Tacos were a hit, and we were given the opportunity to sell at their Eastlake-Chula Vista location, where we continue to see support from the community.

Slowly word has spread out and our name has grown. Caterings are plenty, and we have stretched to serve multiple areas such as North Park, Ocean Beach, Chula Vista, and Solana Beach.

Some days will go smoother than others, but I like to divide struggles into two categories. The first type are things that will happen once, and for the most part, you can prevent it a second time. Lesson learned scenario. The second type are the ones that leave you wishing they never happen again. And let me tell you, we’ve had quite a few of those. Like a pandemic or our food truck’s engine blowing up on our grand opening day.

Both struggles teach us so much about our industry, will power, and ourselves – however, the second type of struggle is the one that tests your resilience and true grit as an entrepreneur. We genuinely want OTRO to work and succeed, and I believe it has shown thus far.

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about OTRO?
OTRO, consists of upscale tacos and antojitos out of a food truck. “OTRO” is perhaps the most underrated word that gets thrown around by the taquero – as you are taking the last bite of your taco, the taquero (tacoman) will always usher loudly “OTRO?”, which means “another”.

We often get asked what tacos we have and why we don’t serve carne asada or adobada, which are staples to taco stands. We decided to stay away from the typical tacos. Carne asada and adobada are all done and done well here in San Diego. We took a different approach, used premium proteins, and added vegetarian options. Ribeye and black garlic adobo shrimp, for example, are not tacos you would find anywhere else. We wanted to create a niche for ourselves within the bounds of a fresh handmade tortilla.

So maybe we end on discussing what matters most to you and why?
Showing up. OTRO is a mobile business, which comes with many obstacles at times – it is rewarding to know that as long as we show up and open up our doors, we can provide a great food experience for our guests and produce jobs for our local community members, making an instant impact.

Showing up can also take a different meaning for those in the trenches. There are days when work is taxing- on our family life, on our bodies, and our minds. Moments like when I first showed signs of Alopecia Areata and needed to attend in-person meetings with breweries to lock in partnerships – as insecure as I felt and somewhat depressed, this tested my courage to face those obstacles head-on, put on my lipstick, and show up! I see this as a huge example for our daughters, which is so important to me. No growth would happen if we allowed ourselves to not show up. This is something I learned from my father Martin, my mentors, and it is something I continue to develop as my husband and I work hand in hand to make sure OTRO and our team is well cared for.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Jiyan Zandi Junemy Pantig Arlene Villarino

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