SOUTHINGTON — The owner of a local graphic design company is pursuing his dream of operating a food truck selling his favorite dishes from the Puerto Rican community he grew up a part of in New York City.
"I’ve been wanting to do this about 22 years and it finally came to reality and I made it happen," said John Ortiz, who opened the windows of his trailer emblazoned with Spanish Soul Food on July 29. He sets up the trailer adjacent to the parking lot for Isabella’s Barber Shop at 824 South Main St. for the lunch rush.
His menu of empanadas, alcapurrias, fried plantains and New York style hot dogs brings something new to town, Ortiz said, and adds some of the culinary diversity New York City is known for.
“Growing up in the city it's like you see all these places selling food — all you see is food everywhere, every corner. You'll see two Chinese stores in the same neighborhood," he said.
Running a small food stand has been a dream of Ortiz’s since he was a kid watching his grandmother selling food out of a wooden kitchen she constructed on an empty lot in New York City.
"It was a little different in those times, you know they were not as strict," he said. " … It was always in my mind to do it after seeing that.”
Since the town lacks formal regulations for opening a food truck that will be operating for a prolonged period of time at one location, Ortiz had to acquire approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Though the board granted the request, it required that the trailer be moved each night to differentiate it from a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Though he was elated to be able to open the eatery of his dreams, Ortiz said he hopes the town establishes clearer guidelines for food trucks which don’t require moving vehicles off-site every day. If he knew that would be a requirement from the outset, he said he’d have purchased a smaller trailer to reduce the wear and tear on his truck.
The same stipulations were placed on Marty’s food truck when it opened last month, becoming the first mobile food vendor to establish a permanent presence in town.
Ortiz wanted to someday open one of the quintessential hot dog stands seen throughout the city, however graphic design proved to be the easier path for him to pursue and he opened Creation Images around five years ago, renting space from the owner of Isabella’s Barber Shop next to where he operates the truck today. Since many of his design customers schedule meetings for projects in advance, he can manage the food stand during the day and work on projects after he closes up shop there.
Isabella Gesnaldo, owner of the barber shop, said Ortiz’s good natured personality makes him a strong businessman and she has no doubt he’ll be successful. Having the food truck outside adds another reason for people driving by to stop in and maybe get a haircut while they’re in the area.
Since she moved her business to South Main Street over a decade ago, Gesnaldo said the thoroughfare grows increasingly busy, which she believes will give Ortiz a steady stream of customers.
“Southington is growing and we’re really adding more industrial and residential, so it’s adding more traffic,” she said.
Waterbury resident Ron Surajnoth was one of those passing through while running errands in town. He decided to stop at Spanish Soul Food on a whim and was glad to see more variety in Southington.
“It brings a little twist to the town, Spanish food,” he said.