Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

When she’s not working at her day job as food service coordinator at the Powder River Correctional Facility, Yeni Arteaga is working at her other day job at the MC Taco Bus.

And so are several of her family members.

Her mother, Maria Concepcion “Concha” Ochoa, 46, is the MC for whom the taco bus is named.

The 31-year-old Arteaga has dedicated her work ethic, her time and her money into establishing a family business to help ease the financial burden on her entire family, but especially on her mother.

After operating the bus for more than two years at the current location at 3240 10th St., just north of H Street, Arteaga is taking the business name — but not the actual bus — and moving a couple of blocks south to the former In & Out Drive-In Restaurant building at 2990 10th St.

The familiar red-and-white-striped drive-in originally opened in Baker City in 1954. The Lethlean family bought the business in 1957 and operated it for the next 58 years before selling it in 2015. The restaurant was closed after it was sold and the iconic neon sign identifying its presence on 10th Street was removed.

As part of the $129,500 sale agreement, Arteaga said she cannot use the In & Out business title. But she doesn’t mind. MC Taco Bus suits her just fine.

“Everybody knows us like this,” she says. “This is where we started.”

Arteaga says she plans to retain the image of the MC Taco Bus and she will incorporate the reds, greens and whites of her business logo as she remodels and makes improvements at the new location.

She hopes to hire a local artist once she’s well-established to produce artwork of the bus for display at the site.

Arteaga said the taco bus, in addition to being a money-maker for the family, is her way of giving back to her mom for all she’s done for Arteaga and her sisters over the years.

“She raised six girls by herself and worked two jobs,” Arteaga said. “Forever and ever she has always supported us. Even now she’s helping me clean up the house (that came with the new location).”

Ochoa, who suffers a birth defect in her feet that makes it difficult for her to stand and walk at times, was happy to give up the two jobs she had worked at for years to support her daughters. Now she works full time at the MC Taco Bus.

Ochoa spent 20 years as an employee of Orchard Wood Products, working from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. For her second job, she worked from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. in janitorial service for Hurley Building Maintenance. Ochoa has assumed the role of cook at the bus named in her honor.

“She likes the work and she loves the customer service,” Arteaga says of her mom’s role cooking at the bus.

And it’s given mother and daughter a chance to spend more time together.

“There was no time to really have a relationship,” Arteaga says of her mother’s former work schedule. “I love being with her.”

The family was forced to make a change in their taco bus business in December when Baker City Fire Chief John Clark informed Arteaga that she would have to move to window-service only.

Clark told her that the bus is categorized as a food cart rather than a building. He said that if she intended to continue to operate it year around with indoor seating she would be required to provide sewer and water service to the bus as if it were a building.

Clark made the ruling about two weeks before Christmas, and Arteaga says she watched as her once burgeoning business decreased by about half over the next few months.

The bus formerly offered seating for up to nine people, including four tables, two with seating for four and two with seating for two, and an additional five stand-alone chairs.

“That killed 50% of my sales,” Arteaga said. “I can’t survive on 50% of sales.”

She realized she needed to make a change and so she began looking for a building in which to establish the business.

Although 2019 started off in a bad way, her luck appears to have taken an upswing. When she learned that the In & Out property was for sale, she made an offer and was able to close the deal by April 2.

Arteaga hopes to move into the home that’s on the same property as the former drive-in in the next couple of weeks and to begin operating at the former In & Out in about 2 months.

She said Clark has agreed to allow her to continue operating the taco bus as long as she is making progress toward the move.

Like her mother, Arteaga is no stranger to hard work. She was the caregiver for her sisters during her school years while her mother worked.

Her sisters, Rut, 25, and Hope, 19, and their 14-year-old sister, Jasmine, and Arteaga’s own 14-year-old son, James — she says many incorrectly believe Jasmine and James are her “twins” — contribute when they can.

Hope and Rut also work full time at Marvin Wood Products. Jasmine is a high school freshman and James is an eighth-grader at Baker Middle School.

Arteaga’s boyfriend, Mike Hutton, and her mother’s boyfriend, Jose Crespo, provide support for the business as well.

Arteaga’s other sisters, Onoria, 28, who also works at Marvin Wood Products, and Miriam, 21, who has been attending college in Portland, also have helped along the way.

“We are building this thing together,” Arteaga says. “This business is going to make money.”

Arteaga studied business at Blue Mountain Community College after high school and spent 10 years at Safeway, working her way up to assistant produce manager.

Along the way she learned from the Safeway store’s former manager, Ken Krohn, who she calls the “money man,” about how to provide superior customer service, order goods and manage inventory.

She took on a second job to provide respite care at a Step Forward group home managed by Ken’s wife, Mari Krohn. Arteaga learned lessons in that role that also have helped her manage her own business.

When she realized that she was not spending enough time with her son and that she couldn’t get ahead to buy a home of her own without a larger paycheck, Arteaga started looking for a better job.

She began asking everyone she could where they worked, how much money they earned and — if the wage was high enough — were there any openings at their place of employment?

Finally she learned that the prison was hiring. She applied and got the job. That was four years ago.

While Arteaga’s luck seems to be changing for the better, she also is no stranger to watching her best laid plans go awry.

See more in the April 19, 2019, issue of the Baker City Herald.