While 2020 was a devastating year for most businesses, a select few saw a chance to seize opportunity.
After finishing her culinary degree at Holyoke Community College, Holyoke resident and local entrepreneur Nicole Ortiz had her sights set on opening a food truck. By August 2020, Ortiz’s food truck was a reality – and the success of that business allowed her to open a storefront in Holyoke six months later.
Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan stopped by to see how this restaurant is serving up tasty Caribbean-inspired fare in the Pioneer Valley.
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Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: While 2020 was a devastating year for most businesses, a select few saw a chance to seize an opportunity.
After finishing her culinary degree at Holyoke Community College, Holyoke resident and local entrepreneur Nicole Ortiz had her sights set on opening a food truck. By August 2020, Ortiz’s food truck was a reality and the success of that business allowed her to open a storefront in Holyoke six months later.
Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan stopped by to see how this restaurant is serving up tasty, Caribbean-inspired fare in the Pioneer Valley.
Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: Before there was this, there was this: the little food truck that could. Born out of opportunity, entrepreneurial spirit, and some help from a thousand dollars in prize money won in a college concept contest, Nicole Ortiz’s Crave food truck made its debut on the streets of Holyoke in the summer of 2020.
And while the risk of chasing her dreams reaped some instant rewards, there were still some bumps on the road.
Nicole Ortiz, Crave Food Truck & Restaurant: The food truck game is super difficult. I find it’s easier to run a restaurant than it is a food truck, just because with the food truck, you have so many variables that just come up every single day and you have no idea what to expect between the gas not working, something weird happening with the gas line, something weird happening with the water. There’s more variables at play, I feel like, with the food trucks.
Brian Sullivan: By March of 2021, Crave the food truck became Crave the restaurant. And here in the city of Holyoke, which is considered a food desert because of its lack of easily accessible, nutritious foods, the opportunity was too big to ignore.
Nicole Ortiz: This community is predominantly Puerto Rican and, like, my community, suffers a lot from diabetes and things like that. So, like, there’s just a lot of fried foods, heavily processed foods here, so I want to do something completely different.
So, we use a lot of fresh fruit, a lot of fresh vegetables. We source a lot of our ingredients locally, when it’s in season. I like to do specials every week that we incorporate the local ingredients. It’s not easy, and you know, but people appreciate quality food and they appreciate good food, and I think they really appreciate what we’re doing here.
Brian Sullivan: The majority of the revenue generation is being done here in the brick and mortar, but the food truck is still making the rounds, mostly on the farmer’s market circuit. And far be it for me to not check it out and see what’s cooking.
For anyone wondering if the truck still comes out to the farmer’s market, even in the rain, the quick answer is yes.
But it’s days like today that make it kind of handy that they have a storefront as well.
Having a home base that’s secured to the ground just seemed like the next logical step for this business, both literally and metaphorically. Even though she was born here in the Pioneer Valley, Ortiz has bounced around the map from the South to the Midwest.
But now that she’s back here on her original home turf, opening up shop in Holyoke gives a sort of local-kid-makes-good feel to her story.
Nicole Ortiz: You know, I’ve always wanted to have a business and be an entrepreneur, but I feel like with this business I’m making a difference in the community. And, you know, my whole family lives here, and my whole family’s always grown up here. So, like, I have very strong roots here, so it’s good to be able to see a difference that I’m making in the community.
And, you know, I have a ton of family members working for me, which is great too. And a bunch of local kids too, that, you know, I’m giving them an opportunity to work in a cool, new modern environment.
Brian Sullivan: There’s one thing that I always want to know from any entrepreneur with that lone wolf kind of spirit, and that is: in spite of any of the struggles incurred along the way, is the American dream still alive and well?
Nicole Ortiz: It’s definitely still alive and real, and I kind of feel like it’s more alive and real now than ever. You know, you’re seeing more people of color in like higher positions that you didn’t before, which is great, and it makes, you know, more younger people that are of color — or not — you know, see that they can do anything they want to do.