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Community Highlights: Meet Ana Rivera of Jibaritos De La Isla

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ana Rivera. 

Ana, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
Funny thing about my business is that it all started out because of my pregnancy cravings. When I moved to San Diego from Chicago, I quickly realized that there were few Caribbean restaurants and even fewer Dominican or Puerto Rican ones. I REALLY wanted a Jibarito (fried plantain sandwich) with arroz con gandules that I used to be able to get so easily back home. So, I began collecting recipes from my mom and family. It was then that I ran into the challenge of finding the ingredients used to cook typical Caribbean cuisine. I kept thinking to myself “I can’t be the only one who’s craving these dishes and having a hard time finding the supplies to make it”. After a great deal of searching for ingredients and a few months of cooking at home for friends, I decided that I wanted to share my food and culture with the public. At this time, my vision was to sell at farmers’ markets and cater events with a food truck. Then the beginning of the pandemic hit in November 2019, and all events and public gatherings were shut down. Having already purchased my food truck and health department permits I knew that I couldn’t quit. So, my husband and I decided to park downtown right in front of Petco Park; since the stadium was closed due to COVID, there was plenty of parking for the food truck. We would park for a few hours, made sure to have our DR and PR flags out so everyone could see us, served our food to go and so Jibaritos de la Isla was born.

For two years, my husband and I parked our food truck all over San Diego at Petco Park, Vantage Pointe Building, Fall Brewing, La Jolla, Pacific Beach, and even Oceanside. In 2021, we were lucky to snag a permanent location to park the truck at Fair@44, a community hub for small businesses. At Fair@44, we really started to set roots and build our clientele. COVID restrictions began to loosen up, and we were finally able to offer outdoor seating/dining along with pig roast events. Our food brought an overwhelming amount of support from Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and everyone craving Caribbean food from all over Southern California. Over time my vision of catering and selling food at events began to grow into wanting a restaurant to fully immerse our customers in Caribbean culture with food, music, and drinks. We also began to outgrow the small kitchen the food truck provided and needed a bigger space to produce more food. In December of 2021, we decided to close the food truck and partner with Juan Pablo Martinez, owner of La Luz Ultralounge a Caribbean Club in Bonita. 

Jibaritos de la Isla now runs a full restaurant operation from inside La Luz Ultralounge. Offering a menu combination of my favorite Puerto Rican and Dominican dishes along with specialty Caribbean-inspired cocktails. My vision has come a long way from catering/food truck business to a restaurant staffed with a hard-working team helping me represent my Dominican and Puerto Rican cultures in San Diego.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
I would be lying if I said it’s been a smooth road, the amount of challenges we encountered since the beginning have been insane. Our food truck opening day was on November 23, 2019, and by the end of the month COVID lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in the state of California began. We invested so much time and money into the food truck that we had to open regardless of COVID and all the restrictions put in place. For a while, we were only allowed to take phone orders (no walk-up orders) which were picked up by customers through the window with limited contact. You can imagine how difficult it was to establish a customer relationship while maintaining 6 feet distance and wearing masks. 

Another struggle we faced was finding a steady supply of inventory in California. A lot of the products Dominicans and Puerto Ricans eat and drink are really hard to come by in San Diego, and if you’re lucky to find our products the prices were always ridiculous. Not to mention the constant rise in food costs which is still a struggle for our business. 

Overall, during the first year or so, it was hard for us to establish a steady customer base because we moved the food truck around (trying to get exposure) but also making it hard for people to find us- especially if they didn’t have social media. A lot of people were starting to hear about our food truck through word of mouth but not able to catch us. 

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Jibaritos De La Isla is the only Puerto Rican and Dominican fusion restaurant in the West Coast. We take pride in serving authentic Caribbean cuisine made fresh to order. Our specialty plates include Jibaritos (fried plantain sandwiches), lechon/pernil slow-roasted pork, whole red snapper, and of course, mofongo just to name a few. In addition, we offer appetizers such as sweet plantain (maduros), fried green plantains (tostones), pastelillos/empanadas, yuca, salami, fried cheese, and more. We offer indoor and outdoor dining along with a full bar serving specialty cocktails such as mojitos, morrir soñando and one of our top sellers Parcha-Colada (passion fruit and pina colada).

Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting out.
Advice for those starting out… I guess my best advice would be as a business owner you have to learn to be flexible and able to adapt in any situation. Also, your vision may change overtime… roll with it. When I first started this journey my vision was small and I honestly never thought that I would be running a restaurant almost three years later. Especially, after witnessing countless restaurants permanently close during the pandemic. We learned to adapt to the constant changes/ restrictions and survived opening a new business during a pandemic.

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