When Ramon Reyes and Maria Flores moved last summer from California to Ocala, they said they were looking for a fresh start.
The husband and wife duo own Mexi-Rican Cuisine, a food truck that intertwines the couple’s passion for convenient meal options and Puerto Rican and Mexican heritage.
“You don’t have to worry about sitting in a restaurant,” Flores said. “We’re all about convenience, and it is easier to just pick up lunch.”
Food trucks have become commonplace for people to eat in America because of the convenience compared to restaurants, and their popularity is only growing as they foster social distancing. Mexi-Rican Cuisine is one of the food trucks joining the cluster of food trucks in Ocala’s Downtown Market.
The city created a park located at 310 SE Third St., which operates every day for breakfast and lunch with three trucks from Tuesday to Saturday. Tom’s Taste of Chicago, Mexi-Rican Cuisine and Buzz & Grind are at the park everyday day during various hours, and more trucks are present on Saturday to create more food options for the customers.
Tito Comas brought the food truck park idea to life in January. Comas is a retired marketing and advertising professional who saw a post on Facebook that a group of food trucks were getting kicked out of another location in Ocala because of the owner not completing the necessary legal steps to operate a food truck park. Through his connections with his marketing company, Grafito, Inc., Comas contacted the truck owners to use the area at the market as a food truck park.
“I called the food truck guys, and they were ecstatic,” Comas said. I started with four or five trucks back in January and we’ve been doing it since then. The city has really been helpful and always try to make things work if possible.”
Comas said Ziggy’s Taste of Detroit would begin business at the park on Friday, and The Spoon Lagoon has agreed to a deal to set up shop at the food truck park in the future.
The market is an open-air pavilion with a permanent roof cover, restrooms, ATM and overhead fans. It is also within walking distance of Ocala’s downtown square, which holds events such as The Friday Art Walk, Light Up Ocala and numerous concerts on the weekends throughout the year.
Lynn Kallay-Brown works for the downtown market as a special events coordinator and has seen firsthand the success of the food truck park at a public event.
Many food trucks gain followings in different areas such as Tom’s Taste of Chicago, Kallay-Brown said.
“His Italian beef is phenomenal,” she said. “It tastes just like what you get in Chicago.”
After a food truck meet-up project across town fell through, many businesses such as Tom’s were left searching for a spot to set up shop. According to Comas, the food trucks at the project were given two days to leave and without any solid locations many of those trucks had to shut down for a short time.
Thomas DiForti, the owner of Tom’s Taste of Chicago, is a Chicago native who wanted to introduce his hometown food in a city more than 1,000 miles away. According to DiForti, the food truck industry is beginning to see a boom because many people want to go home and eat.
“Covid helped my business because some of the restaurants shut down and food trucks are to-go, which didn’t affect us.” DiForti said.
The food truck park offers amenities that other locations hosting the trucks cannot, such as access to electricity and water, DiForti said.
“It’s just a less stressful spot,” he said.
Cheryl Friedman is an employee at the Ocala civilian service center, which is across the street from the park, and she and her co-workers take advantage of the proximity every day.
“It is easy and convenient because we just walk over here,” she said.
Kallay-Brown said the future of the food truck park is to have at least four trucks set up every day. The trucks will have more opportunity for big profits when the market begins the Wednesday Farmers Market in the fall.
“The more trucks at the park, the more variety of food there is and would get more public attention,” she said.
This tasty, convenient experience is here to stay.