Lydie Lovett launched her chicken-sandwich business, Chicken Rebel, in San Diego, but came to Denver because of the food-truck opportunities here. Her plan was to buy a food truck, sell chicken sandwiches in Denver for a month or so, then drive the back to California. But two crooked truck builders nearly ended her venture before it ever geared up.
Shortly after arriving in Colorado in the summer of 2017, Lovett contacted Denver Custom Food Trucks, owned by Larry Perez and Rudy Martinez. "[Larry] promised me a working truck with all new equipment for $15,000, to be ready in two weeks," she recalls. "I thought this was fantastic and was confident I would have my dream truck. I started booking gigs in anticipation of this."
The build dragged on, but Perez kept making promises, giving Lovett hope that her truck would soon be ready. "The truck ended up taking two months to build and I had to sit in his office every day for hours at the warehouse trying to get his 'workers' to do work on the truck," she explains. "Sometimes I would even get on the truck myself to assist. Every day he would feed me more grandiose promises of how the truck was going to be finished soon and how great it was going to look."
As the delays continued, Lovett set up Chicken Rebel at breweries around town in a tent with fryers and an order table. To her surprise, hordes of chicken-sandwich lovers showed up wherever she was serving. "For the first few months, we had lines down the block, and I knew Denver was our permanent home," the chef notes.
Eventually, Denver Custom Food Trucks delivered the Chicken Rebel truck, but the vehicle was barely street-worthy, stranding her business in Denver. "In the end, I got a truck that only can drive a couple miles because it heavily leaks gas," Lovett says. "It has faulty used equipment, and I had to beg the fire department to pass us at inspection. I also had to pay the rest in cash in order to get the title issued to me. And there was no way I was driving this thing back to California."
The young entrepreneur's misfortune turned out to be a blessing in disguise, though. She was able to find a permanent parking spot at Finn's Manor, at 2927 Larimer Street, where fans of Chicken Rebel continued to flock, giving Lovett the confidence and customer base to serve as a springboard for opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant. She says she never would have survived if she'd had to drive the truck around from location to location, spending all of her revenue on repairs. Now she's in the process of building a Chicken Rebel restaurant at 3622 Tejon Street, with plans to open the place this summer.
As for Perez and Martinez, bad karma (and bad business) eventually caught up with them. After an investigation into their fraudulent dealings with dozens of potential food-truck operators, the Colorado Attorney General's Office pursued a case against the company, and this week a Denver District Court judge ordered the two to pay a total of $4.5 million to clients who never received their trucks or were delivered vehicles "equipped with unsafe, fraudulent parts," according to a press release from the AG's office.
Denver Custom Food Trucks had continued to operate in 2018, even though they'd been shut down by Commerce City officials for failure to pay taxes, and Perez and Martinez never held a required motor vehicle dealer’s license, the AG's release notes. As a result, they're now also prohibited from any involvement in the food-truck fabrication business.
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Although Lovett will not be getting any compensation from the settlement, she considers herself one of the lucky ones. "I've heard countless stories of folks getting ripped off by Larry and Rudy," she says. "Folks who paid large sums of money and often got no truck at all or their money back. I was lucky to have the support of the community and customers to help make my dream a reality."
And Denver is lucky to have Chicken Rebel as part of our thriving street-food scene.
"I believe Larry and Rudy knew they could take advantage of small business owners who don't often have the backing or resources of larger companies," Lovett says.
And the AG's office agrees. It encourages "any consumer who is defrauded or cheated to file a complaint by going to www.stopfraudcolorado.gov or calling 1-800-222-4444."