After working together in the restaurant industry for 17 years as servers, managers and kitchen staff, a trio of colleagues planned to start their own food venture this spring.
But when the March opening day arrived for their Vesuvio’s Pizzeria food truck, the partners woke up to news of a citywide COVID-19 shutdown.
“The day we set up the computer, finished designing our menu with our food truck ready for business was the first day that the city closed down [due] to coronavirus,” co-owner Esteban Alvayero said.
The new entrepreneurs, formerly employed by Southtown Pizzeria, paused their opening while friends and associates dished out cautionary counsel.
“This is when you are supposed to run away,” a friend advised Alvayero.
“But he was wrong,” Alvayero said. “This is all about faith. If you truly believe in your food and the mission behind what you are doing, then there is no way to fail.”
Clinging to that mantra gave the three partners the assurance they needed to stick to their dream and carry on with their opening.
‘Everything we do is for our guests’
Vesuvio’s doesn’t fit the traditional grab-and-go food truck model. Parked at 110 South Alamo St., the truck sits in the driveway of a historic King William home. Chef, artist and co-owner Ana Mercedes Linares plans to use the house as a gallery for her paintings and a place for community art classes.
The crew serves up scratch-made pizza, Italian dishes and desserts amid the backdrop of dimly lit patio seating.
“It’s gourmet food without the fine china,” Alvayero said.
Sounds of jazz, popping wine corks and water trickling from a nearby fountain invite guest to come in and stay awhile, as if the setting is their own home. Alvayero wanders among the tables, entertaining guests and calling pedestrians in from the sidewalk for a complimentary glass of wine.
“When you serve a person food, they become a part of your family,” he said.
Born in San Salvador, El Salvador, Alvayero’s best childhood memories were around a kitchen table. His father, who inspired many of the restaurant’s Italian recipes, died two months ago from COVID-19.
“My father always told me not to count my age by years, but by the friends and family in my life,” Alvayero said. “That’s why we are here. Everything we do is for our guests.”
‘Crazy enough’ to open
As the pandemic shutdown dragged on, associates barraged Alvayero and his partners with well-meaning advice.
“It’s like watching that scary scene in a movie when the viewer knows that there is danger in one direction, yet the character walks straight towards the threat,” one concerned acquaintance counseled Alvayero about his opening plans.
“Eventually, I think everyone reached the point of being tired of staying home,” said Anthony Rodriguez, the truck’s third partner. “Meanwhile, we also reached this point of being tired of sitting on our idea.”
Rodriguez oversees the business side of Vesuvio’s, but he’s often seen rolling dough mid-shift to keep up with the rush. He said the decision to open during the pandemic set low expectations from the start.
“We said, bare minimum, we need to survive on this, and we were doing it,” Rodriguez said. “Now we are in a place where we can expand and slowly build up to meet the market potential.”
The mobile eatery moved from a gas station then to a food truck hub before finding its current location. Having served the King William community for almost a decade at Southtown Pizzeria, the partners were determined to offer an art component to their business that fit the neighborhood.
‘Let the dogs bark’
Mercedes Linares — who’s frequently onsite crafting homemade desserts, dressings and sauces — said opening the truck felt similar to overcoming the challenges she’s faced as an artist.
During a high school class in her native El Salvador, Mercedes Linares painted a scene from Don Quixote, the famous Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes. When she opted to paint the knight’s horse blue instead of a natural color, her instructor criticized her for thinking too far outside the box.
“Let the dogs bark, Sancho, it is a sign that we are moving forward,” Don Quixote says in the book. Those words remind Mercedes Linares that the best ideas are often met with world-weary platitudes.
“Sometimes when people doubt you, it is confirmation that you are doing the right thing,” she said.
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