Five years ago, Blaine Baggao swapped his motorcycle for a food truck.
Now, he’s stationary.
The owner of Adobo, a Filipino and Mexican food truck, opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant at 3109 Federal Blvd. in West Highland last month.
“I realized that I was selling more than most food trucks, and I was a one-man team who had people come help me,” Baggao said. “And after coming to the conclusion that I’m not going to find another person like me who’s going to put in all this time and energy, I decided another food truck was not the route to go.”
Baggao started Adobo in 2017, serving dishes inspired by his Filipino grandmother, such as chicken adobo and lumpia, along with things like tacos and green chili cheese fries. The restaurant on Federal has all that and more, including rice bowls, salads and burritos.
Adobo also took over the kitchen for First Draft Taproom & Kitchen in RiNo in 2020 and is a local vendor at Meow Wolf. Baggao said Adobo did $156,000 in revenue in 2019, and $600,000 and $2.1 million, respectively, in 2020 and 2021.
Baggao started out making 40 pounds of chicken adobo each week for his food truck, and said he now makes 350 pounds twice a week. That’s not counting the 5,000 pounds of chicken adobo he said he’s cooked for Meow Wolf in the last three months.
Adobo’s food truck is only used for weddings and corporate events now. The concept was also featured on a Netflix episode of “Fresh, Fried & Crispy” last year.
“I just outworked everyone else,” Baggao said. “I slept for 20 hours a week. I never slept on a Sunday, and just killed myself, even developing heart palpitations. There was no way I was going to fail because I made sure of it.”
Baggao had an unusual start to his career in the food industry.
Before this, he was working at Vanguard in Scottsdale, making even more money for high-net-worth individuals. But at 27 years old, he suffered from a bad brain injury as a result of a motorcycle accident.
After that, he had a hard time communicating with people, and turned to food to express himself.
“I used to be able to do standard deviation of portfolios in my head, but I couldn’t even remember a full sentence I just read,” Baggao said. “Instead, I could make a taco or do a dish and that would represent how I felt.”
Baggao got back into the finance industry after moving to Denver in 2014 despite his motorcycle crash. But he went through a messy divorce in 2016 and ended up losing custody of his now 6-year-old daughter.
“I was a very egotistical, numbers-driven kind of guy worried about how much money people make and what kind of car you drive,” Baggao said. “But my ego was basically broken, and I had nothing left to be egotistical about.”
Baggao decided to leave his six-figure job and focus on what he loves, since he had already lost his daughter and his mother, who passed away in 2004.
He started Adobo as a tribute to his late mother, who used to work long days as a cardiologist and diagnostician, owned her own lab, and still made it home to cook her kids dinner.
“She used to say she worked so hard her hair hurt, but she would still come home and be the mom and the dad,” he said. “She’s the inspiration behind my work ethic and why I wanted to start my own business.”
Baggao bought Adobo’s food truck in 2017 from Denver Restaurant Equipment Corp., which was sued by Attorney General Phil Weiser in December last year, claiming the company has sold food trucks without a dealer’s license since at least 2015. The case has since been dismissed.
“I cashed out my 401K, sold everything I had, but then I still didn’t have enough, so one of my hometown friends helped with the rest of the investment,” Baggao said. “I didn’t have any other options.”
Just like the food truck was an investment in his future, the restaurant is an investment for his daughter, to whom he hopes to pass on his business. Baggao signed a five-year lease for his new 5,000-square-foot restaurant on Federal in September, but he eventually plans to buy the property.
“This corner is not going anywhere,” Baggao said. “Speer and Federal are only going to get busier. I can’t get $3 million now, but I can get a lease with the first right of refusal to lease it again or buy it, as long as I don’t mess this up. You could imagine this whole corner being a high-rise, and someone would be willing to pay a high price for it.”