Mitch Ciohon’s mustache, first and foremost, deserves mention. It’s a good one -- both sides curling up in a perfect handlebar like those last fashionable in the 19th century among bare-knuckle boxers.
He is 35 years old. Born and raised in Oconomowoc, Ciohon still splits his time living there and in Milwaukee.
He owns Gypsy Taco -- a food truck permanently parked behind Boone and Crockett, a saloon-style bar located off Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View.
His hobbies include playing ice hockey, enjoying a Pabst Blue Ribbon now and again ... and talking tacos.
Ciohon never tires doing any of those three.
He is meeting for this interview on a recent late afternoon. In fact, it’s a Tuesday -- the most fitting day of the week to talk tacos. He sits at a back corner table inside Boone and Crockett, which is dimly lit and has walls full of buffalo head mounts, antlered skulls and so on as if Daniel and Davy decorated the place themselves.
Ciohon fits in well here. (Mostly, it’s the mustache.) Just behind him, on a large shelf above the table, is a stuffed mountain ram.
Ciohon is saying that it was at this table, beneath the frozen stare of this mountain ram, that he and the bar owner agreed to partner up and have his food truck -- a totally road-worthy vehicle -- remain stationary off the back patio, never moving.
Ciohon recalls that he and the bar owner -- on the evening of that decision -- had a few rounds of beer in them.
He smiles at the irony that Gypsy Taco, which hasn’t left the patio now in over a year and is the only food truck in the entire state of Wisconsin that has legal occupancy on a tavern property, recently won “Best Street Food Vendor” in Milwaukee by the "Shepherd Express" newspaper.
His slogan is “Unapologetically [Un]authentic Tacos.” “I’m a white guy from Oconomowoc,” Ciohon says. “I’m not fooling anyone.”
His food truck is a 1978 Chevy P30 Step Van, bought cheap at an auction. Used originally as a fire department emergency vehicle, the truck was previously painted completely lime green, giving it more of an appearance of an ice cream truck.
Ciohon has since spray painted the truck flat black. Today, it has more of an appearance of a United Postal Service truck absconded by the Hell’s Angels.
His favorite parts of the truck are the spots, here and there, where lime green still peeks through.
He and his wife went on a research road trip before opening Gypsy Taco, traveling through 38 states in 42 days and eating solely at food trucks. Every night they slept in the “Belafonte,” their 1950s-style camper trailer named after Bill Murray’s ship in the “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," Ciohon’s favorite movie.
Ciohon, shortly after returning from the trip, ordered a brand-new, custom-made food truck from a Georgia-based manufacturer. The scam-artist “owner” skipped town with Ciohon’s $12,000 down payment and is still on the run.
Ciohon sums up the ordeal: “You have to move on. You get up in the morning and be the best you can be.” Still, what would Ciohon do if he ever bumped into the lousy crook? “The business side of me would continue legal action,” he says. “The hockey-temper side of me would ask him to step outside. Just for a second…”
Ciohon says he doesn’t “take anything seriously,” except the things he “takes seriously.”
He answers, “Everything,” when asked, “What do you take seriously?”
Ciohon turned the key in the ignition a few days ago, just to see if the truck would start. It did. He drove forward a couple feet before reversing and setting the wheels cozily back exactly where they were.
Ciohon isn’t planning on moving it anywhere.
He’s a kind of guy that just needs to know that he can.