Diverse food trucks in NYC give back with free meal giveaway as part of Pepsi promotion

The owners of Island Spice Grill, Demetrius and Roxanne Newton, pose in front of their food truck in Harlem. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Manzanita Sol, a new apple soda from PepsiCo, partnered with four popular Black and Hispanic-owned food trucks this weekend in New York City, handing out free food and a bottle of the apple pop.

Honoring the contribution the local food trucks have made to their respective communities, each owner also received $10,000 from Manzanita Sol as part of PepsiCo Foundation’s commitment to invest more than $570 million over five years in Black and Hispanic-owned businesses and communities.

“New York is a place where you’ll find diverse cuisines around every corner, and food trucks are what bring that authentic taste of home paired with a refreshing Manzanita Sol to the streets of the city,” said iHeartRadio New York’s Power 105.1 radio personality Angie Martinez, who helped announce the initiative.

Island Spice Grill owners and chefs Roxanne and Demetrius Newton have been serving Jamaican and Caribbean food to the central Harlem community from their bright food truck, which is parked on the corner of 135th Street and Lenox Avenue across Harlem Hospital, since 2014.

Diners line up for Caribbean food from Island Spice Grill. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)
(L-R) Baby G, Angel, and Gray enjoy Jamaican food from Island Spice Grill. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

A long line of customers waited patiently to pick up some of the free food, which included jerk chicken, sweet and spicy shrimp, wild flounder, mac and cheese, and a vegan dish while listening to reggae music and enjoying the smell of barbecued chicken and pork permeating from the large bbq pit sitting next to the food truck.

Roxanne Newton admitted that they were surprised when PepsiCo chose them to help launch Manzanita Sol and the free food initiative. 

“We’re very honored to be part of that, to be able to touch so many people, you know?,” her husband and chef Demetrius Newton said. “In a time like this where everybody needs it, you know, being able to give back, it is important for us.”

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the couple also fed essential workers for free — and they were excited to give back to the community once again.

“We try to touch as many people as we can because we know at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.  How can you touch someone else during a time in need? That’s just something that’s joyful for us,” Demetrius explained.

His wife Roxanne concurred and said, “You give from the heart.”

Angel, the owner of Lechonera La Piraña, wields his machete. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

Angel Jimenez, the owner of Lechonera La Piraña in the South Bronx, is known for his classic Puerto Rican pork dish lechón. Known as the infamous machete-wielding “La Piraña,” Jimenez chops the slow-roasted pork with a machete before it’s doused with a healthy dose of garlic oil. He also serves generous portions of octopus salad with homemade hot pepper dressing over rice.

“La Piraña,” who took over the business from his parents twenty years ago,  came through for his community during the COVID-19 pandemic. He shared that he gave out a lot of food from his truck, which is located at 766 E 152nd St. on the corner of Wales and 152nd Avenues.

“Somebody comes to you, and you ‘re hungry, you got food, you’re gonna say no?” he asked. “Money is not everything in life. I could have a lot of money, but I’m gonna help my people.”

Lechonera La Piraña also serves octopus salad over rice. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

His friend of 20 years, Mario Hernandez, praised the machete-wielding chef not only for his contribution to his community during the COVID-19 crisis but also for his food.

“I love the food. It’s typical Puerto Rican food. You feel like you’re on the island. You feel like you’re in Puerto Rico when you walk in there; it brings you back to your culture,” Hernandez said.

El Punto Final is located at 559 W 185th St., Washington Heights. The family-owned food truck delivers a taste of home to the Dominican community.

The owner Mateo, who also works as a certified first responder with the FDNY, grew up in Washington Heights and has a passion for food. He opened his food truck two years ago but was closed for almost ten months because of the pandemic.

Mateo, the owner of El Punto Final, a food truck in Washington Heights, gives the thumbs up for his Dominicubano sandwich. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)

It means a lot to him that he is able to serve Dominican food, which is fused with other cultural cuisines to his community. One of his signature sandwiches is a DominiCubano, a Cuban sandwich with a Dominican twist by adding tomatoes, cabbage and a different type of ham.

“I was born and raised here because I feel like I’m giving back. Aside from doing something positive, I am giving back to the community in the sense that they get to taste my food.”

The CFR is able to juggle both jobs with the help of his family.

“It’s so hard to keep up, but you got to do it. I have a good family that helps me out, but that I’m a first responder as a nine to five, I also have to make time for my passion which is food and the restaurant business. So, it’s, it keeps me busy. I have very little hours to sleep, but I get to eat, I get to be with my family while I’m here,” Mateo said.

El Punto Final, a food truck in Washington Heights, serves Dominican food. (Photo by Gabriele Holtermann)