Richmond’s foodies have good reasons to get behind the GoFundMe efforts to get Kristina Melendez-Thompson’s food truck, Ita’s, back on the road after it was totaled recently along westbound Interstate 64.
Those reasons start with fluffy, pea-studded Spanish rice and savory empanadas stuffed with capers and spiced ground beef, and end with thinly sliced ribeye steak nestled inside two crispy fried plantains with spicy garlic mayo sauce.
By phone last week, Melendez-Thompson said she’s both surprised and grateful that in the days since her Aug. 9 crash, the fundraising efforts started by her family have taken off. As of Saturday evening, nearly $8,000 had been raised toward the $10,000 goal.
For information or to donate, visit www.gofundme.com/f/ita039s-food-truck.
Melendez-Thompson was traveling westbound on I-64 heading toward the exit for state Route 288 when a back tire blew out. The truck fishtailed, she said, and she lost control. The food truck, which specializes in her mother’s Puerto Rican recipes, is equipped with a full kitchen — that means deep freezers, refrigerators, water tanks, plus cooking equipment, not to mention food and ice.
“There was just a lot of weight in the vehicle,” she said by phone Thursday. “Nothing I did was controlling the truck.”
Alone in the truck, she hit the embankment and the truck flipped twice. Shaken but not badly hurt, Melendez-Thompson said her family came to her the next day with a suggestion to ask the community for help in bouncing back.
“Shocked and overwhelmed” is how Melendez-Thompson described the response thus far from the community.
“We have a great following,” she said, adding that contributors so far include “some of our regular customers — we know them by name, we know what they order — they’ve become part of our family as we’ve built this business.”
Ita’s celebrates its one-year anniversary this month.
Fellow food trucker Aaron Pietzyk, who operates LOWCO Eatery, was among the many people who have donated thus far.
“When something like that happens, it makes you stop and think about all the potential risks of owning a food truck,” he said by email, noting that he met Melendez-Thompson when they both showed up at a location in what became a scheduling conflict. Melendez-Thompson and her son “were kind enough to let me have the shift that night,” he said, and “upon meeting them it was easy to see how kind they were.”
“The food truck community is very small, and supporting each other is essential,” Pietzyk added. “Food truck ownership allows us to focus on our love of food in a unique way, and despite the sometimes bumpy ride, we stick with it through the help and support of our community.”
Erin Brunner, events coordinator for Hardywood Park Craft Brewery’s Richmond location, said the brewery is setting up a Latin-themed fundraiser night that will include 10 to 15 food trucks, music and games, with some of the proceeds from the food trucks and the brewery going toward Ita’s. She expects the event will be sometime in the next few weeks.
“The food trucks are a part of the craft beer scene [and] they’re just all part of our family,” Brunner said. She called Melendez-Thompson “one of the nicest people” and said “people love her food so much so we really want to see her back on her feet.”
While $10,000 won’t fully cover the costs of getting Ita’s back to its original form, Melendez-Thompson said she simply wants to be able to cook again.
“I’m so grateful with what we have so far,” she said.