SAN JUAN – Gourmet food parks have proved a big success for small businesses in San Juan over the past few years, and a way to deal with Puerto Rico’s struggling economy.
Specifically Santurce, an area mostly known for its cultural history, is where these establishments have recently sprung up, notably the Lot 23 food park, where 14 food-to-go businesses are located, and the Miramar Foodtruck Park, the first of its kind.
“Our aim is to develop a Santurce community of business owners capable of providing more choices of high-quality meals and entertainment,” said Mario Juan, chef and administrator of the food stand Pernileria Los Proceres on Lot 23.
It was last Dec. 8 that Lot 23 went into business, with 14 establishments offering a wide range of menus, and which include the Cafe Regina, Hen House, Baoricua, Wok It, Sr. Bigotes, Señor Paleta, El Joint Burger, Caneca, Do, Doroteas and Bayard Pomme Frites.
The concept of Lot 23, founded by Fernando and Cristina Sumaza, was, according to Mario Juan, to create something like the San Miguel Market in Madrid but which would offer Puerto Rican products and would be designed to attract tourists.
Mario Juan said he set out to find a good location for his food stand, which sells roasted pork and brioche sandwiches, and through his contact with the Sumaza family, decided to join with the other establishments in the food park.
According to Mario Juan, 29, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in New York, these communal efforts allow small business owners a certain flexibility in varying their high-quality menus, whether it be Asian noodles, hamburgers or other dining delights.
At the same time, some owners of these establishments are also administrators of traditional restaurants who make sure these food stands are well visited and are making significant changes in the Puerto Rico’s gastronomic industry.
Not far from Lot 23, specifically in the Miramar area, the Miramar Foodtruck Park has been established under the direction of Yareli Manning of The Meatball Company, one of the four notable meals-on-wheels enterprises there, the other three being La Chilanguita, Puerto Rico Bagel and Cool Hope.
The park is a favorite not only of locals but also of the tourists staying in different hotels and bed & breakfasts around the area, Manning told EFE.
It was in the San Juan district of Hato Rey that Manning first set up his rolling restaurant – the same area where his sister was operating her food truck Yummy Dumplings.
But with an urge to expand, Manning found an available spot in Miramar for his enterprise The Meatball Company.
These and all the other high-quality gastronomic establishments in food parks signify a big change from the hamburger and hot dog stands that, until recently, were the only food-to-go facilities available.