Food truck finds success from students

Owner Yordanys Bastardo holds a plate of nachos with home-made queso and hot sauce while working at Villa Verde food truck at the corner of 5th Street and Harding on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014. (Aileen Devlin/The Daily Reflector)
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Aileen Devlin

Owner Yordanys Bastardo holds a plate of nachos with home-made queso and hot sauce while working at Villa Verde food truck at the corner of 5th Street and Harding on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014. (Aileen Devlin/The Daily Reflector)

By Abbie Bennett

Yordanys Bastardo said it was East Carolina University students who helped his family realize their dream.

And it all started with a few free tacos.

Originally from the Dominican Republic, Bastardo, 30, his wife Eribania and 10-year-old son Yoerik have started a food truck in Greenville and they’re calling it Villa Verde — Greenville — after the section of the town of La Romana where they grew up.

Since the last Saturday in November, Bastardo has been setting up on a property he rents at the corner of Fifth and Harding to service the crowd of students and young people downtown during late hours — staying open until 3 a.m. or whenever supplies run out.

On his first night with the truck downtown, making homemade Caribbean food, Bastardo said it was dark and rainy. He hadn’t had more than nine customers, when a thought struck him.

“I said to some of the students, ‘Come over and eat,’ but they didn’t know who we were and were a little skeptical so I said ‘How about a free taco?’ and they stopped,” Bastardo said, laughing. “I was told that was the way into the heart of the students.”

In weeks, word of mouth — but mostly tweets — had so many people lining up that Bastardo couldn’t keep up. Now he’s running out of food nightly.

Two students helped Villa Verde become a Twitter powerhouse, he said. They also helped set up an Instagram account for the truck.

“I had a Facebook because I thought that was the way things were going, but I was wrong,” Bastardo said. “The guys helped me realize that Facebook is way outdated to the students and they helped me start my first Twitter account. They showed me how to retweet and they took it and ran with it. After the first two weeks they turned it over to me and now we’re at 37,000 followers.”

Nightly, the account retweets students and others with reviews of the food or tweets information about specials and the location of the truck. The interest is high and expectations are being exceeded with each experience.

The free tacos from that first night were what fueled the social media marketing campaign.

“I said ‘I’ll feed you guys if you can help me’ and they did,” he said. “I can’t thank them enough.”

Villa Verde is one of a few food trucks in Greenville. There aren’t any food truck-specific rules in the city, making things a bit more difficult for people like Bastardo, but he and his family saw a need in the community.

“We were born and raised in the Dominican Republic,” Bastardo said. “So we’re sort of ambassadors of our culture in the eastern North Carolina area. When we lived in New Jersey, it was a mixture of everybody — a melting pot, just like what Greenville is becoming.”

Food trucks were a normal sight in the other places the Bastardo family has lived, and for many ECU students from other areas of the state or country, food trucks aren’t unusual.

“We heard a need in the community for something that wasn’t a cookie-cutter place,” he said. “Going back to the places we lived, food trucks were second nature. They’re part of the community.”

Searching Craigslist one night, Bastardo came across the food truck idea.

“And I told my wife ‘I think I got it. I think this is it,’” he said. “So we just went for it.”

They chose the corner of Fifth and Harding because “it’s right in the heart of the ECU crowd, which are the ones accustomed to things like this. They’re not as skeptical as people who haven’t ever been outside of eastern North Carolina. And now those kids are so special to us.”

“My wife is the heart and brains of the operation,” Bastardo said. “She’s an amazing cook.”

And Bastardo’s father owned a restaurant, so he’s accustomed to the hardworking atmosphere, he said.

The family tries to stay authentic to every dish they put out on the food truck.

“The taco seasonings we use are the same ones used in Mexico — no TexMex stuff,” he said. “It’s 100-percent the way the Mexican community would do it. It’s the same with the Caribbean food.”

The goal eventually is to open a permanent location, but Bastardo said the truck is doing so well, that may not happen until next fall.

The most popular item on the menu is the Cuban sandwich.

“I can’t keep enough of those things,” Bastardo said of the sandwich made with french bread, ham, mustard, pickles, swiss and roasted pork. “It’s true to the recipe but we add our own twist in the way we cook the pork. It’s normally roasted and sliced but we cook ours for 14 hours and it just falls apart.”

Bastardo is adding things to his menu he never imagined before.

“I told the students, ‘Tell me what you want and we will try to do everything we can to accommodate you,’” he said. “Now we have nachos and queso dip just because they’re asking for it.”

Bastardo said students are going back to their roommates and friends and bringing them back to the truck again and again.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with me or what we’re doing,” he said. “I think the kids have made this their own. And I’m just thankful they want us to be part of their experience.”

But the service doesn’t stop at the truck.

Villa Verde will deliver anywhere in Greenville, Bastardo said, and with just two guys running deliveries, he said a recent Tuesday night yielded 123 deliveries.

“We ran out that night — a Tuesday — because we ran out of everything just about,” he said. “We had to shut the doors and people were upset.”

That same wild success has made Bastardo and his family grateful “to the kids” who Bastardo said are the reason his dream is a reality now.

“They ignited a fire to our dream,” he said. “We owe it to them.”

Contact Abbie Bennett at abennett@reflector.com or 252-329-9579. Follow her on Twitter @AbbieRBennett.

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