Woody Ruiz, his omnipresent dog Bug and his tent and grills for Woody's Fish Tacos (862-9590; firstname.lastname@example.org) are all familiar sights at neighborhood festivals and outdoor markets around New Orleans. Originally from the Northeast, Ruiz has lived in New Orleans for 15 years. Before becoming a food vendor, he worked as an oyster shucker at private events. You can find Woody's Fish Tacos at the monthly Arts Market in Palmer Park (the next one is Oct. 27), the Freret Market (Nov. 3) and at the Tuesday edition of the Crescent City Farmers Market (200 Broadway St.) through the end of October.
What makes a good fish taco?
Ruiz: What I hear from people is that they like that it's cooked right there in front of them and it's fresh. I use wild-caught, fresh Louisiana fish. I don't understand frozen fish. Tilapia? I roll my eyes at that. We have so much fish in our backyard that we can use instead. This really started because I'd go fishing all the time and then would make fish tacos at home. And then we came up with the recipe for this slaw and a remoulade that we put on them. It started out as tartar sauce but I swapped in some jalapeno and made it into a remoulade and now you have a New Orleans taco. It's part of marketing it too. As soon as we put that on there people really got interested.
Do you think you'll ever turn this into a restaurant?
R: If the right opportunity came along I'd take a look at it, but I think there's room to grow this business. I have a great crew, I pay them well, they're nice to people and now I'm able to do two events on the same day. There's interest from events out of town too.
What would you tell someone thinking about starting out as a food vendor?
R: The thing about vending is there's low overhead, it's a turnkey business. You can be successful if you put out a good quality product and keep it consistent so people know if they liked your stuff at one place they'll like it again. In New Orleans, professionalism goes a long way. — IAN MCNULTY