SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – Over the past year, Puerto Rico has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Its current economic crisis, which has been developing and worsening for the past 10 years, has much of the island in despair. According to the Pew Research Center, Puerto Rico’s population has decreased every year since 2006, taking the country’s economy along with it (data from the same study suggests its gross national product has declined 13 percent since 2006). However, there seems to be a silver lining. The financial crisis has turned the culinary scene up on its head — but not for the reasons you might think.
Yareli Manning, owner of San Juan food truck the Meatball Company and co-founder of the organization Food Truck Republic, is emblematic of Puerto Rico’s changing economy. Manning traded her life as a business consultant for a Fortune 500 company in Houston, Texas to open a food truck and food truck park in Puerto Rico. Inspired by the Austin street food scene, her decision seemed like a no-brainer given the low operational costs. “The food truck seemed like the right way to go,” said Manning. “There are minimal overhead costs and you can get by with few employees.” After an uphill battle to get the necessary permits, loans, and cashing out her 401K, she opened the Meatball Company in 2014, offering customers handcrafted meatballs (chicken, beef, pork, or lamb) served up in various ways: sliders, spaghetti, subs, gyros, as well as daily specials.