Food trucks boasting haute cuisine like Korean barbecue and Jamaican jerk chicken took over Governor’s Island last weekend for the seventh annual Vendy Awards, which honor the best in street cart cookery. The grand prize, the coveted Vendy Cup, went to Solber Pupusas, a husband-and-wife team that serves the traditional Salvadoran dish of corn patties stuffed with fillings to your liking. We spoke with Cesar Fuentes, whose parents Reina Bermudez-Soler and Rafael Soler began the business 12 years ago, about their big win.
How did the business begin?
The experience began at the Red Hook Ball Fields. My mother and her husband became part of this group called the Red Hook Food Vendors, about a group of 12 separately owned food businesses, and they began in there. At the very beginning, it was a very humble set up. I became acquainted via my mother; I would help her on the weekends. Eventually I became the representative of the Red Hook Food Vendors. There was gentrification going on the area, so the vendors began to be known. People found that my family, along with all the vendors, had been making food that needed to be shared.
What went through your mind when you found out you won?
It took a few seconds but to me the first thing in my mind was just looking at my mother and at Rafael and thinking back at the 12 years. [My parents’] first sale was a cup of coffee and they forgot to bring change because they were so new at it. I looked at them, I looked at the truck and I looked around and I said ‘Wow.’ I am so proud of what my mother has done. It was an amazing experience to be able to represent the food that my mother prepares. [Everyone who voted] voted not for us, they voted for the pupusas, they voted for what it means to be a street vendor who struggles and who becomes accepted. And the change is good. It’s an amazing moment that’s happened. It will stay with us for a very long time.
What’s next for your business — more trucks? A store?
My family entered the incubator project called Hot Bread Kitchen in Harlem. It’s an incubator to help minority women, to provide micro-entrepreneurs a cooking space. Our plan now is, through the incubator, to start manufacturing pupusas, and given that our products are only sold throughout the summer, we would love to see our pupusas in the shelves of supermarkets. Our plan is for now seeing how we expand, and hopefully at some point [we’ll] get our own restaurant. I think that would be the ultimate dream for my mom.
Follow Meredith Engel on Twitter @MeredithatMetro.