It was 8 a.m., but his jaw was already peppered with a black-and-grey five o’clock shadow.
The 42-year-old works long days Tuesday through Saturday managing two food trucks for Cilantro Tacos, a local restaurant started by his sister, Sydney Meth, and her husband, Nareth.
But Sen Khiev hasn’t always been carefree on the back of a trailer braising carnitas and seasoning tacos.
In fact, two and a half years ago, Khiev left his chiropractic business in Cypress, California, in order to join the new family restaurant at 25740 W. Newberry Road.
“I knew something was here,” he said after visiting his family and seeing Cilantro in action. “I really saw the love, I guess, in the feedback from customers.”
So much so that six months later he decided to move across the country with his wife, Dara, and his now 6-year-old daughter.
Khiev said Sydney, his sister, is the culinary mastermind behind the place while Nareth handles the business side of things.
“Every one of our menu items she experiments, creates and tinkers with until she has the right recipe,” Khiev said.
Meanwhile, Khiev’s nephew, Nathan, helps run one of the two food trailers while his niece Natalie, a UF student, pitches in whenever she can.
However, Cilantro did not have a food trailer until Khiev arrived.
“The food truck is where I came in,” he said.
Originally operating only as a restaurant location, Cilantro now also has two fully operational food trailers that have become a staple of Gainesville cuisine.
The trailers, 8-by-10-foot platforms with a flat-top griddle, attach to a truck and attend about nine events a week now, Khiev said, including Taco Tuesdays at Swamp Head Brewery, the downtown farmers market on Wednesdays and events at First Magnitude Brewing Company almost four times a month.
The food trailers have been great for business, Khiev said, but they have also had their fair share of bumps in the road.
One time, Khiev said, while riding down Newberry Road about a year ago, the Cilantro food trailer actually unhooked from the back of the truck.
His black fitted tee rippled as he smiled and shook his head side-to-side, reminiscing on past food truck fiascos.
“Mine’s a food trailer, so I have to attach it to a truck. And I didn’t secure the hitch properly,” he said.
But even with the day-to-day surprises, Khiev said, serving customers an amazing taco at the end of the day makes it all worth it.
He said one of his favorite things is hearing feedback from first-time Cilantro customers.
One lady, a world traveler, tried the tacos for the first time at a Jonesville farm wedding catered by Cilantro, he said. She said it was some of the best food she had ever tried from around the world.
“We hear a lot ‘Oh, those are the best tacos I’ve ever had in my life,’ and they’re like 60 years old,” Khiev said. “We never know if it’s that person’s first time or experience with us.”
It’s those moments, he said, that motivate everyone at Cilantro to keep putting their best taco forward.