Turlock resident Tony Zaia has owned and operated Wetzel’s Pretzels establishments in local malls for nearly two decades, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced the businessman to get creative and take to the streets.
Over the past few weeks, a very long line has formed in the Turlock Christian Elementary School parking lot as customers eagerly await one of the restaurant’s famous pretzels. When his three locations in the Modesto and Merced malls were shut down due to COVID-19, Zaia decided to utilize his Wetzel’s Pretzels food truck to ensure locals can still get their hands on their favorite food items.
“It’s been pretty tough for us and like everyone else, we had the idea of taking our business outdoors. It’s worked out perfectly,” Zaia said. “With everything that’s going on, it’s been our main source of income at this time.
Typically, the Wetzel’s Pretzels truck is stationed in the TC parking lot for a few days each week. Due to the heatwave, its first day back will be Sept. 2, the day after a fundraiser the truck is hosting at Walnut Elementary Education Center. A majority of Zaia’s employees are on unemployment, so it’s been a family affair as he mans the truck along with his wife, mother-in-law, sister and son.
While there are some similarities between operating a brick-and-mortar space and a food truck — for example, the Jalaroni pretzel with jalapenos and pepperoni is still a fan favorite — Zaia has found that there are quite a few differences, especially when he looks out at the seemingly endless line for the truck along Colorado Avenue.
“It’s a totally different operation,” he said. “We’re finding out that our average person comes to the mall and buys one or two pretzels, but here we’ve had a higher average ticket. The whole family comes and we have to have a lot of pretzels ready from the time we open.”
Despite some obstacles, such as the summer heat, Zaia is thankful for the support from the community during the difficult period and is grateful TC has allowed the truck to set up in its parking lot. Customers who take a tour of the elementary campus can also receive a discount at the truck. Soon, Zaia hopes to open a permanent location in Turlock.
“We have been extremely blessed and are thankful for the support of a small business and the support of us. This has been a shot in the arm for us, especially since our shops have been shut down since March. It’s been so helpful and really gave us a breath of fresh air.”
2323 Colorado Ave., Turlock (Turlock Christian parking lot)
Beginning Sept. 2: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Friday
The Jalaroni pretzel