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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Island’s first gluten-free food truck opens its doors in Gurabo

A harsh skin reaction that she traced to certain foods she was eating during the pandemic led Nathalie Otera Rivera, second from left, seen here with family members, to open the island’s first gluten-free food truck in Gurabo this past weekend. (Photos by Richard Gutiérrez/The San Juan Daily Star)

By Richard Gutiérrez

The coronavirus pandemic took down many businesses in Puerto Rico and the mainland United States. However, at the same time, many people pursued ideas of an entrepreneurial nature during the pandemic as a way of coping with the boredom and ennui of lockdown.

That was the case for Nathalie Otera Rivera of Gurabo, but her awakening went somewhat deeper than just being bored at home.

“During the pandemic I randomly got some sort of really aggressive acne reaction all over my face. It was horrible,” Otera Rivera told the STAR. “As I started doing my research, I realized one of the main causes could’ve been lactose, and another one of the causes could be the red meat.”

“When I started cutting those out of my diet, I realized there was a change in my skin,” the 29-year-old said. “It got so much better, and well, since we were not doing anything during the pandemic, I started working in my parents kitchen, cooking and making a couple of things … experimenting. My friends and family were my first customers and they told me I was onto something, so I decided to work on it and create ‘Planeta Aambrosía’ (Planet Ambrosia).”

Ambrosia, in Greek mythology, means “Mana of the gods.”

“The little alien guy on the logo is the official inhabitant of Planet Ambrosia,” Otera Rivera said. “He’s chilling under the palm trees because of the tropical weather, and has his little belly because he’s full of good food. I got the idea one night looking at the stars in my parents backyard and I saw a shooting star and thought of it.”

Apart from the extraterrestrial inhabitant, Planet Ambrosia is quite different from most food trucks because its main menu is vegan food. In fact, it’s the first ever vegan food truck in Gurabo and the first gluten-free food truck on the entire island, according to its owner. On top of all that, it’s the first vegan Mexican food truck in Puerto Rico as well.

“One thing led to another, so I started with vegetable proteins; however, most of the vegetable proteins out there are high in sodium, and because of the genetics of my family I started to try and create foods that were lower in sodium, so I started selling proteins,” Otera Rivera explained. “After that I began expanding to meal preps, until I was finally able to achieve my magnum opus -- the food truck -- and I hired an employee, so from being a one-person team, it has turned out to be a two-person team so far.”

In other words Otera Rivera started from scratch while still living in her parents’ house, building her audience before opening her establishment. She worked in her parents’ kitchen for nearly two years until she was able to move out and have her own space. Once she had enough space to work in the kitchen, she was able to produce a lot quicker, and in a sense the business grew with her: as she moved out her business expanded. So far, reception has been quite positive as her phone blows up with text messages as everyone writes her positive messages.

The evolution to being open every day took place sooner than she had wanted. On Saturday, the day of the grand opening of Planet Ambrosia, there was a ribbon cutting at 12 noon, where all her family members and friends cheered her on and wished her the best in her travels as a businesswoman.

The general public was invited starting at 1 p.m., and by all indications the grand opening was an absolute success. Most of the food items they had prepared were sold, and the reception on social media was quite positive.

Otera Rivera wasn’t sure how the business was going to go or if it was going to be a success or not, but she worked hard to open her food truck. Meanwhile, many things happened before the grand opening.

“There was a possible hurricane coming, the truck got really busted up -- a lot of the pieces went bad -- my cooking griddle got damaged as well, just a lot of stuff happened this week,” she said. “Thankfully the hurricane dodged the island, I called a mechanic to fix the truck, and I coincidentally had an extra cooking griddle at home. I was determined to open today no matter what.”

The success of the grand opening made it clear to Otera Rivera that her hard work and determination had paid off.

“I would tell anyone who wants to make their own business to just go for it and look for the proper tools to achieve their goals,” she told the STAR. “I learned how to cook on my own, I learned how to cook vegan food on my own, took lessons, and certified myself as a plant-based chef as well. I have educated myself and looked for the proper tools to educate myself in order to achieve what I desired. So, my advice for anyone who wants to build a business here in Puerto Rico is just to go for it and keep trying hard to make it work.”

In the end, demand was so high that even though the truck closed at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Otera Rivera texted the STAR at 7:50 p.m. that she was finally able to sit down and get some proper rest.

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