Jordan Beber, 31, opened JB’s Tacos, a food truck, almost seven years ago. He recently made the jump into a brick and mortar venture in downtown Lawrence, preparing eclectic dishes that combine flavors from around the world.
We reported in August about how Just Food, the Douglas County food bank, is using the space at 805 Vermont St. to prepare ready-to-eat meals. That work happens Mondays through Thursdays. But from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays through Sundays, the space opens as JB’s Cali Fusion.
The menu features dishes such as the Phorrito — “Seasoned sliced beef and onions, pho seasoned rice noodles, bean sprouts, Thai basil, cilantro, hoisin sauce and sriracha all wrapped in a huge tortilla,” according to the menu — and the pad Thai burrito — “Grilled chicken thigh, rice noodles, bean sprouts, egg, green onion, cilantro, pad Thai sauce and a sunflower butter sauce wrapped in a tortilla.”
Beber was born in Wichita, raised in Visalia, California, then Long Beach, California. He moved to Lawrence for college about 12 years ago but stayed because he loved the town, he said.
Here’s how Beber came to run JB’s Cali Fusion, which opened downtown in late October.
Q: What’s your culinary background? What got you into food in the first place?
My family really got me into food in the first place. I grew up eating Guatemalan and Mexican food at home. I cooked with my mom every once in a while but mostly just watched. My family is definitely why I got into cooking.
I got into the food industry around 15 and have worked in it since then — nothing fancy, but a few places that helped at least learn some knife skills. The biggest inspiration was just eating at the newest fusion restaurants that were all over Southern California. My favorites were the ones that blended Latin and Asian flavors. Of course, the other main influence for the brick and mortar spot was the California burrito and carne asada fries that are all over San Diego.
Q: How did JB’s Tacos come about? What were your goals with that venture?
The idea stemmed from my brothers and I talking. Our uncle Luis makes these crazy delicious tacos, and we said how popular they would be if they were being sold from a food truck.
My last year at KU, I thought about it more and just happened to see a trailer for sale on Craigslist. I took the money I was supposed to use for my last year at KU and bought the trailer instead and turned it into JB’s Tacos. I didn’t really have too many goals lined up with it when I started. I just wanted to have fun with my friends and make tacos and come up with fun fusion ideas for new tacos.
Q: How did you get connected with this brick and mortar location?
Greg Renck from Terrebonne actually reached out to me about the location. He told me that they were planning on signing on a new spot and that he wanted a small business to take that spot before the owners put it on the market. I’m super thankful for him reaching out. He is one of the nicest guys you’ll meet, and I was thrilled that he reached out.
Q: Define Cali fusion?
It’s a combination of Cali-Mex and fusion food that I thought rolled off the tongue a bit better than JB’s Cali-Mex and Fusion. I’ll be honest, I’m not the most creative when it comes to naming things. I love punny names, but I can never think of them when I need to. One thing I would like to bring soon to show more of the Cali-Mex side is more seafood, but finding great fresh seafood is much tougher in Kansas than California.
Q: Which dish are you the most proud of to date?
That’s a tough one. I really enjoy our Korean beef tacos and burritos. I’d say it’s one of our most popular and it’s packed with tons of fun flavors. The specials we did for restaurant week were a lot of fun too! I was pretty happy with the pad Thai burrito, I thought it was such a fun twist on a popular dish.
The phorrito is one of my all-time favorite dishes, but I can’t take credit on that one. That idea was from an amazing Vietnamese/Mexican fusion restaurant that was in Santa Monica that ended up closing during the pandemic. I wasn’t about to let the phorrito disappear once they closed, though, so I did my best to recreate it from what I remember.
Q: Who’s behind the counter and at the grill with you?
My close friends! That was the main goal with opening the food truck, and the same goal with the brick and mortar. I just wanted to be able to work with friends and make fun food, bounce ridiculous ideas off each other, and come up with new stuff! They’re all insanely talented and I’m lucky to have them on our team, but I’m even happier that they just happen to be some of my closest friends. Their talents go beyond cooking, too. They cover all the areas, from general handyman work, graphic design, landscaping, painting, sculpting, dancing, choreography, comedy, and so on.
Q: You share this space with Just Food, correct? How does that work? What’s that like?
Yes! We sublease the space from Just Food. They use the kitchen Monday through Thursday, and I get to run our restaurant Friday through Sunday. It’s not a large location so storage space can sometimes be an issue, but besides that, it’s been working great!
Chetan Michie, who leads the operations of the Chop Shop, has been such a huge help. He helped me with my billions of questions I had about starting a brick and mortar location, finding the right food distributors, and just about everything. It’s incredible how much food he and his team of volunteers are able to make in the small kitchen we have.
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— Reporter Mackenzie Clark contributed to this article.