The truck, wrapped in vibrant shades of purple, red, orange and green, elicits smiles. Three painted figures gaze up at the sun and stars, next to the all-caps identifier, TATAY’S TRUCK. Come closer and you may meet the warm, welcoming faces of Alexa and Matt Alfaro, the sibling entrepreneurs who run this restaurant-on-wheels that reflects the heritage of the Alfaro family. Their father, Raymund, came to the United States from the Philippines when he was still a teenager, training to become an engineer and building a family with his wife, Deb.
The Alfaro siblings say they’ve learned everything about Filipino cuisine and culture from their dad, so the name Tatay’s – pronounced TAH-tie’s and meaning father’s in the Tagalog language – is fitting. First debuting the truck in 2014 as Meat on the Street, they later opened a brick-and-mortar location inside the food court at Eleven25 on the former Pabst Brewing grounds (1125 N. Ninth St.) and have stoked the demand for their homey, hearty Filipino fare – from lumpia egg rolls to pork adobo bowls – which is only part of their mission.
Over time, as they shared more of their culture through food, they knew the time had come to rebrand their mobile business, the first Filipino-focused food truck in Milwaukee, to “reflect who we are, with culture, cuisine and family at the foundation,” says Alexa. Over the last seven years, Alexa has used her voice to represent Filipino culture as a leader in the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Coalition of Wisconsin and in ElevAsian, a collective that seeks to elevate the visibility of AAPI issues.
But Alexa says she’s scaling back her community involvement to focus on the businesses, with plans to also rebrand their space at Eleven25 by the end of 2021. Channeling that energy through food is where it all began. And Tatay’s Truck – its arresting mural designed and painted by local Korean-American artist Emma Daisy Gertel – is a perfect example of the Alfaros’ continued advocacy of culture through cuisine.