If there were awards for food trucks, Ricos Pinchos Place would likely win most colorful. It would also qualify for bilingual and international awards.
The husband and wife duo of Sarahi and Hector Alicea own the truck and their experience operating food trucks dates back decades when Sarahi got started in Puerto Rico selling coconut candy.
While the weather is much different in Buffalo and Hector has to shovel snow to get the truck moving over the winter, they call that a hassle, rather than a challenge. But there are challenges. Sarahi took time to explain how they got the truck rolling here in Buffalo and the roadblocks she and Hector face.
Question: You’re very experienced in running a food truck, but how different is it in the United States than on the island of Puerto Rico?
Sarahi: I started in Puerto Rico 20 years ago and I’ve been doing it two years here in Buffalo. I had two trucks over there. I decided to move over here to new housing and it took us two years to get the food truck we have now, little by little. We brought it out in June 2015. The big difference is the volume of the business. There is more business here.
Q: You feature all Puerto Rican food. What is your specialty?
A: Our specialty is el jibarto – a fried plantain sandwich. You could have it with different meats. Also pastelillos – those are turnovers - beef and cheese patties. And then we have shish kabobs. I also have rice meals.
Q: Do you follow authentic Puerto Rican recipes?
A: A lot of those recipes come from my family. I learned from my mom and she learned from her mom. They are all original Puerto Rican recipes and the best of Puerto Rican homemade food. Customers appreciate it and they are proud of it. They will take pictures of the truck.
Q: Speaking of the truck, how did you come up with such a colorful design?
A: When I was in Puerto Rico, I had that vision. I wanted to bring a little of everything from Puerto Rico in my truck to Buffalo. The parrot is the national parrot. Every picture is something from Puerto Rico. Not only Spanish people, even the American people, they like the food truck.
Q: What kind of a reaction do you get from first-time customers regarding the food?
A: They tell me the food is excellent. They eat things I thought they would never eat. They say oh my gosh! They say it tastes good, very good. They will say these are best pastelillos. Some say I don’t know what to pick from.
Q: Is the language barrier a challenge when dealing with customers?
A: Yes, I do put my menu in both languages, in Spanish and English and I take time to explain what I have and what the ingredients are. Customers follow me on Facebook. That’s where I post where I am.
We’re in business Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the summer with our major spot on Niagara Street. We also do traditional Spanish food catering. I try to go if companies call me to service them. If not, I’ll be on the streets. I do events if they ask me.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered after so many years in the food truck industry?
A: What’s hard here in Buffalo with the food truck is finding a commissary kitchen. You need to have that to have a license. I’m waiting for commissary to be approved to renew my license. It’s not easy. And that’s the hardest part.