John Jairo Peláez came to Miami in October of 2004 with only $1,000 in his pockets, after the bankruptcy of his shoe factory in the Colombian city of Medellín.
Nine years later, the businessman has become the owner of one of the most popular of the dozens of Hispanic fast-food trucks that turn up mornings in Kendall to serve clients looking for something tastier than traditional chain-store fare.
Rain, thunder or lightning, I am open here every dawn, said Peláez, owner of Asados El Paisa. I started this adventure with a lot of love, like my mother taught me, because rice and eggs taste very good if done with love. Our specialty is doing things with love, and the results are obvious. Thanks to God, things are going very well for us.
Parked in strip malls and churches along busy 137th Avenue and SW 88th Street, the trucks announce their specialties with modern, lit-up digital panels and display national flags to indicate the origin of their dishes.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Javier Souto, who represents part of Kendall, said that the area, home to about 300,000 people, has become an attractive spot for the trucks because of the high concentration of Hispanics looking for the typical tastes of their native countries at modest prices.
In Miami-Dade, in the 80s and 90s, these food trucks went to the industrial areas near the airport to serve mostly truckers, Souto said. Now these trucks are following the New York trend and search for more residential areas to sell their food in more sophisticated, more modern vehicles, which has turned into a success.
For Carla Santos and Estefanía Lugaresi, going to the trucks for some of the popular chimichurris Dominican Republic versions of a hamburger is a tradition that keeps their roots alive.
Their favorite place is Chimi-Kendall, owned by Rubito Suárez, whose trucks are parked at the Plaza Taimar, on 137th Avenue in front of the Tamiami airport.
We always try to get together to come and eat here, Lugaresi said. The food is good, and they sell it at good prices. His chimis sell for $6, and a combo that includes meat, cheese, plantains and sausage goes for $12.
Suárez bought his 1981 truck for $15,000 three years ago, to start a new business after selling a small shop in northeast Miami.
Now my dream is to have a bigger truck, so that I can serve more people, Suárez said.
Working out of the same parking lot are two other trucks that serve Colombian food Que Sabroso Fast Food and Okay Extreme Burger.
Positive word of Kendalls food trucks has traveled so far that R.J. Reyes, a student who lives in Pembroke Pines, stops by the trucks on 88th Street every time he visits his friend Claudia Sánchez.
I live almost one hour away, but when I come, what I do is I look for the food trucks in Kendall because they are very good, said Reyes, whose family is Cuban.
But starting Monday, clients like Reyes will have a new option in Broward County.
Thats the start of the Food Truck Collective, in a five-acre park in the city of Hollywood that will feature several fast-food trucks as well as live music shows.
The park, Negril on The Green at 315 South 62nd Ave., will be open to the public starting Monday at 6 p.m.
The Broward market already has caught the attention of Peláez, who has one of his trucks rotating through several areas of the county for special events.
But his ambitions go beyond that. The Medellín native is planning to buy a third truck and park it in Homestead to serve the growing market of Mexican clients.
Peláez also rented a shop in Little Havana four months ago and plans to open a restaurant that will sell his hamburgers, arepas and fried plantain tostones.
He will be following in the footsteps of Gerardo Cárdenas, a Peruvian who owns Super Cholo and who six months ago opened a fixed restaurant at 14782 56th St. SE after several years of selling food out of a truck on 88th Street and 137th Avenue.
Thats also the dream of Carlos Paredes, a Peruvian from Lima whose truck, Taipa, specializes in Peruvian dishes.
God willing, I hope to inaugurate the restaurant in March, Paredes said. But that doesnt mean that I will close the truck. With my wife, we have worked very hard and hope to continue doing it.
The Taipa truck parks in the Lord of Life Lutheran church on 137th Avenue, along with Kala Fast Food, which serves Colombian fare, and Don Mofongo with fare from the Dominican Republic.
For Peláez, who saved up his tips as a waiter to buy his first hot dog cart and later his food truck on credit, the main ingredient for success is a fusion of dedication and a spirit of adventure.
When I bought the airplane ticket for Miami, I made a bag and put in three little pieces of paper with the names of New York, Atlanta and Miami. And Miami came out, said Peláez, whose capital now stands at about $250,000.
And in all that time, what I have done is to work very hard, dedicated to preparing first-class Hispanic fast food, he added.