Solber Pupusas. The uninitiated ask, "What’s a pupusa?" Those who’ve experienced them usually answer, "a 45-minute wait that’s worth it." This traditional food from El Salvador consists of grilled corn masa patties that are hand-shaped and stuffed with cheese and meat (chicharron, chicken, fish, even pepperoni) and vegetable (pumpkin flower, beans, spinach, and zucchini). Winning the Vendy’s in 2011 was almost like New York City's food truck version of an Oscar for lifetime achievement — Solber Pupusas has been being served at the Red Hook Ball Fields for more than a decade. But that doesn't make what they do and cook any less delicious.
The couple behind the truck, Reina and Rafael Soler Bermudez launched their truck in 2008 after years as part of the Red Hook Ball Field food vendors in Brooklyn. They've developed a cult following over the years since (and accolades), and garnered a spot on The Daily Meal's 2012 list of 101 Best Food Trucks in America with a Twitter following that's barely worth noticing. How? Great food. And isn't that what it's all about?
In this interview Reina and Rafael Soler Bermudez talk about their inspiration, their brick-and-mortar dreams, and plans for upcoming Caribbean dish additions to the Solber Pupusas menu.
What was the inspiration for going into this business?
The inspiration began 12 years ago in the form of an opportunity to become part of the popular Red Hook food vendors. As a husband-and-wife team, we had a passion for good cooking and good recipes from our native countries — El Salvador and the Dominican Republic respectively.
What's the story behind the origin of your truck's name?
Solber is the composite of the first letters of our last names. Pupusas is the signature dish we serve, corn patties with various fillings. The whole name also represents the fusion of traditional Salvadoran cuisine with Caribbean infused flavors.
How did you come up with your truck's design? Is there a designer you'd like to give a shout-out to?
The logo is ours. The design of the truck is the inspiration of Valle Signs, a Long Island, N.Y.-based company.
What model truck do you have?
It's a Grumman truck. God knows the exact year, but it's definitely a product of the '80s!
What's your signature dish? Is it also your most popular dish?
Pupusas is our signature and most popular dish. The traditional food from El Salvador: corn patties with cheese and different fillings.
What's the inspiration for your cuisine and recipes?
We have a passion for the traditional food of El Salvador (where Reina is from) along with the fusion and flavors from Rafael's native Dominican Republic and Caribbean-style cooking.
What's the most challenging thing about running your food truck?
Keeping up with the maintenance of the truck and little things here and there that need fixing!
Would you ever go brick-and-mortar?
We haven't gone brick-and-mortar yet. But we would definitely like to!
What one piece of advice would you give someone looking to get into the food truck business?
Don't think long and hard or else you might end up giving up before starting. There's a lot of investment and sacrifice, but if you are convinced that your dish is going to be a hit down the line, it will most likely be a hit if you work hard enough!
Any new upcoming dishes planned that you can tell us about?
We will start featuring more Caribbean-inspired meals such as Rafael's Dominican steak — amazing if you like well-seasoned/well-done steak that packs lots of flavor!
Any new plans on the horizon you can share?
We plan to concentrate efforts on doing more catering now and expand from weekends and special events to seven day a week operation!
Lots of things happen when running a restaurant — that probably goes double on the road. What's one particularly outstanding moment you can share?
Just too many to mention. Every day is a battle, every moment a challenge, but at the end of the day, it feels good to come back home and savor the reward of a full day's work.
Arthur Bovino is The Daily Meal's executive editor. Follow Arthur on Twitter.