The Dilla Experience
By Jordan Venema
Photo: Ellie Koleen
Quesadilla rhymes with tortilla, and gorilla rhymes with vanilla, but when placed next to each other, how should you pronounce them? Go ahead, try it: quesadilla gorilla.
Don’t stress it too much, though, because according to Miguel Reyes, owner of Quesadilla Gorilla, “either way works, as long as it rhymes.” As long as it rhymes.
This October marks three years since Reyes opened the quesadilla grill, which he and wife Mikayla run from the small space adjacent to Visalia’s Fox Theater. It’s a fact that most restaurateurs start small, but Quesadilla Gorilla’s quick popularity has propelled the couple to take their dillas to the streets. In January, the couple purchased a custom-built food truck, and now the gorilla has gone mobile.
Before the dilla, the small location sold hot dogs and most recently pizza by the slice. “That was the company that we actually bought,” explains Reyes, who initially had plans to cater to the night crowds.
Then one night it hit him. “Why don’t we do quesadillas? We can have a build-your-own menu” – and really, what doesn’t go with cheese and tortillas – “and the idea took off. We never thought it would be what it is now.”
Like most California kids, Reyes grew up on quesadillas. “If we didn’t have food in the house, there was always cheese and tortilla.” There’s something about the simplicity and nostalgia, the balance between gooey and crispy, which makes the quesadilla a favorite with, well, almost everybody.
All they needed was the name.
Reyes had planned, even begun to design the logo for The Melt. “We just weren’t sure about it,” he admits, “but we couldn’t think of anything else.” Serendipitously, Reyes was getting a cut at local barber Boling’s, when barber Evan Boling quickly suggested Quesadilla Gorilla.
“Within a minute Evan snapped his fingers and said ‘I got it.’ I said it makes no sense.” Boling reasoned the name was so far out there, people would remember it. Also, since they were next to Fox Theater, gorilla played off the theme of King Kong.
Somewhat persuaded, Reyes put the idea to Mikayla. “I told her and she said, no, that doesn’t make any sense,” he says with a laugh.
“My whole family goes to Evan,” says Mikayla, “so I was like, alright, I like the guy” – enough, at least, to give the name a chance. “The day we opened it took off and everybody loved the name. Yeah, it took some convincing,” she admits, “but now I love it.”
Quesadilla Gorilla even serves the Evan Boling Quesadilla, a chicken, bacon, jalapeno dilla “that he gets whenever he comes in,” says Reyes. “Now it’s our top seller.”
Other than The Boling, Gorilla favorites include The Classic, a chicken verde, rice, and beans dilla, as well as The Veggie. Plus they get downright creative, having served quesadillas with chili cheese, or one made with a baked potato. “The options are endless,” says Reyes.
Endless options maybe, but not endless space. While the couple loves the quaint confines of their Main Street location (and they have no intention to leave it), the cozy quarters have proved difficult when prepping for both the restaurant and catered events. So with more requests for onsite grilling, Reyes decided to buy a truck.
“Like a UPS truck,” Reyes describes their mobile grill, with Mikayla adding, “the kitchen easily is bigger than our restaurant’s.”
Though the couple picked up the truck in January, they only began selling dillas by the roadside in early May, and they’ve been pretty much booked since then.
Other than operating the restaurant in Visalia, “we’re bringing out the truck to Fresno Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” says Reyes, though they expect those dates could expand. They’re already making stops outside Fresno’s Sequoia Brewing Company and Grizzly Stadium, as well as private events and weddings. They’ll be updating a calendar of future stops to their website and social media.
Questions of size aside, Quesadilla Gorilla’s move to mobile just made sense – it’s allowed the couple to bring their dillas to Fresno, plus “it’s the perfect food truck food,” says Reyes. But the food truck might only be the beginning.
“We actually just left a meeting about possibly opening a location in Fresno in addition to the food truck,” says Reyes. While nothing is set in stone, the wheels are already turning. “We have plans to open a location in Fresno within the year, but it might be sooner.”
302 W. Main St., Visalia
(559) 636-6375 • www.quesadillagorilla.net
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