Local restaurant donates burritos to health care workers

Casero employees have been assembling burritos for local health care workers.

An Encinitas-based father and son are donating more than 1,300 burritos to San Diego’s health care workers on the front lines of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s a big production, but we’re really thankful that we’re able to do it and give back to our communities,” said Clayton Wheeler, an Encinitas native and owner of Casero Taqueria in Carlsbad.

His father, Mark, who has owned Encinitas Ford for about 30 years, donated $10,000 to support the effort. Deliveries are being made with cars from the dealership.

They started out by making phone calls to Tri-City Hospital, Scripps Encinitas, UCSD Medical Center, Scripps Memorial and Sharp Memorial Hospital to find out how much food they would need and to schedule the best days and times for delivery. The first delivery, 200 burritos to Tri-City Hospital in Oceanside, took place on Monday, April 13. Deliveries continued through that Wednesday.

“Each community that we’re in has supported us extremely well throughout the years and we wanted to be able to give back to those communities, and especially the people who are on the front lines right now, putting themselves at risk and helping us to get back to a normal way of living,” Wheeler said.

Before opening the kitchen again to make the burritos, Casero had been closed since mid-March, when public health orders required restaurants and other venues to close to help contain the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Wheeler said it might reopen for takeout and delivery on May 1, or for dining in if government restrictions are lifted by then. He added that business has been down about 40-50% at the multiple restaurants he owns over the last month.

“It’s really been rethinking your entire business strategy to survive through these times and make the most of it,” Wheeler said.

The burrito initiative also gave the restaurant a chance to put a few of its employees back to work. The food service industry has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis, with places closing entirely or operating with a skeleton staff for takeout and delivery.

“It is a great reminder that it’s family and community first,” Wheeler said. “It’s been really amazing to see how people are banding together and supporting one another from small things like food donation to bigger things on a business level that have helped our restaurants cut expenses.”

Wheeler said he plans to start a GoFundMe page to keep the initiative going.