When Guatemala City’s distinctive red buses were removed from certain parts of the capital to make way for the government’s public system, many of them fell into disuse and were sold as scrap metal. Hugo Cristal and Alejandro Escobar didn’t want their bus to suffer the same fate, so the pair came up with a novel approach to keep it in business: a fast food restaurant on wheels was born.
“The idea came about because we wanted to carry on using the bus, even though the route had been taken over by Transurbano buses,” says Cristal.
Transurbano buses were introduced in some of the most dangerous parts of the city in order to increase safety on public transport. Tickets are prepaid so drivers do not carry cash, and many of the buses feature security guards and CCTV cameras.
Read more: Driving gangs off Guatemala City’s buses
While the transition has improved passenger and driver security, it left many of the old buses without a job — and their owners without their source of income.
“I had experience in cooking, and so we decided to turn it into a restaurant,” says Cristal.
The former transportistas chose not to tell their family and friends about their career change until the bus had undergone its transformation and was ready for its first day of work.
The alterations took just two months, during which time the original seats were repositioned to accommodate tables providing indoor seating for 20 people. A kitchen was installed with a grill, fryer, sink and churrasco (barbeque), and some of the windows were removed to form a hatch, which allows the chef to take orders from the street.
The team of three — Cristal, Escobar and their former cobrador, who used to collect the bus fares — now work from Monday to Saturday selling churrasco and fried chicken to around 100 people a day. They drive the restaurant to its regular spot early each morning, head out to buy daily supplies and then start preparing for the lunchtime rush.
The bus has been operating as a fast food restaurant for two years and has proved to be a hit with locals and students alike. Last Christmas it was seen touring Guatemala City en route to cater at a handful of festive events around the capital.
“It’s definitely been a change and it can still be stressful at times, but we enjoy it and it’s very satisfying,” says Cristal.