Among the vibrant streets of Miami, a city renowned for its diverse street food and a hotspot for aspiring entrepreneurs, one man’s dream to create his own business united with his wife’s love for cooking.
For years, Eros and Mariale Puentes shared a vision of having a store and building a business together.
Since moving to Gainesville and opening the Venezuelan-styled food truck La Maracucha three years ago, the couple’s journey has finally led them to opening a brick-and mortar store. After purchasing the trendy ice cream shop Ice Cream and Crêpes Eatery in March this year, the family is working to renovate the downtown Gainesville restaurant and combine it with their existing food truck business and Venezuelan culture.
The ice cream shop — located at 1025 W. University Ave. — features a variety of milkshakes and smoothies, belgium waffles, sorberts and crêpes, and it is 36-year-old Eros Puentes’ latest step in expanding his business in Gainesville.
Puentes first began the business with his wife in 2017 in Miami, where they would cook meals at home and bring them to their job at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. The couple began to sell these meals to their coworkers, who fell head over heels for the food, he said.
“They were like, ‘Charge me whatever, just bring me the food,’” Puentes said. “So we started bringing food, and that’s how we incorporated as a business … Once we got the food truck we dedicated ourselves 100% to it.”
After starting the business in Miami, Puentes and his wife decided to move the business to Gainesville in March 2020 because they didn’t like the Miami traffic and expenses. The family chose to park their truck at the Ace Hardware — located at 3727 W. University Ave.
Since moving in front of Ace Hardware, Puentes has worked to create a name for the business and grow a stronger customer base, especially among Venezuelan students and residents.
“Most Venezuelan students, when they want to eat their country’s food, they just search on the map arepa,” Puentes said. “Then they come here and try it out. They like it and then they bring five more friends … We not only have the Venezuelan students, we now have a bunch of American students as well who like it or even Asian students.”
Many Venezuelan residents are drawn to the food truck because of its true Venezuelan-styled food, which is based on the food Puentes’ wife used to enjoy the most when she was living back in Venezuela, he said.
The most popular dishes include the beef arepas and sweet and salty cachapas, which are similar to sweet corn pancakes, Puentes said. The menu also includes chicha, a drink that is thicker and sweeter than horchata.
One Gainesville customer, Carlos Roopnarine, said he has been coming to the truck about twice a month for longer than he can remember.
“My favorite is the arepa,” Roopnarine said. “It’s my favorite food … It doesn’t hurt to try something new; it’s an adventure.”
One Ace Hardware employee, 58-year-old Rube Bedenbaugh, is also a big fan of the business and often purchases food after working.
“They’re a beautiful family,” Bedenbaugh said. “A lot of people go out there and they order food and then they come in here to shop.”
Since creating a strong base of consistent customers at the food truck, Puentes hopes to bring them to his new location at the ice cream shop.
Now parked behind the ice cream shop Tuesday to Thursday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 7 p.m.-10 p.m., the truck allows customers to grab both a sweet treat and a warm Venezuelan meal.
Puentes has added the La Maracucha menu to the shop’s screens, allowing customers to order both ice cream and food from the same register, which employees then bring from the food truck to inside the store, he said.
The truck still remains at its original location at Ace Hardware Friday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., yet Puentes said he hopes to move it to the ice cream shop Monday to Saturday and increase its hours once more customers become aware of its new location.
Aside from updating the business’ hours, Puentes is working to renovate his store and add personality to it.
Puentes has added the La Maracucha logo, which is an image of his wife, to the shop’s front window, and he plans to add touches of blue and orange to the second floor to resemble the food truck.
Puentes also hopes to update the store’s floor and windows, as well as renovate a room for photos with neon lights, bright pink paint and speakers, he said.
Although it can be challenging to make the transition from a food truck to a brick-and-mortar restaurant, Puentes is grateful for the opportunity to grow his business with his wife. Puentes also hopes that in the future, they will have a newer, bigger place with stores in the same building, he said.
“After I met my wife, I told her what my dreams were and she told me hers, and they were very similar,” Puentes said. “So we combined our efforts and ideas, and that's what makes us happy, that we're little by little having what we want, what we've always dreamed to have.”
Contact Alexandra Burns at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @alexaburnsuf.