Growing up, Felipe Crespo was always around areas with lots of Latin culture and diversity. When the now 29-year-old Crespo moved to Pittsburgh from Chicago, he was surprised to find a lack of Puerto Rican cultural representation.
After recognizing that he wasn’t the only one who felt detached, Crespo got to work bringing his family’s culture to the Steel City.
“It was obvious that the city was lacking Latinx diversity. I knew I couldn’t be the only one feeling like this. I saw an opportunity to open up a spot that would bring fellow Latinx people together,” Crespo said.
The first and only Puerto Rican food truck in Pittsburgh is a quick success, as Secretos De Mis Abuelos — which translates to “the secrets of my grandparents” — began operations this past March.
This delicious new piece of Pittsburgh would be all but a passing thought if not for Crespo.
Crespo, who is of Puerto Rican descent, lived in central Florida and then Chicago before moving to his Pittsburgh apartment in 2019 for a master’s program at Duquesne University. Unbeknownst to him when he moved in, the apartment was across the street from the area’s sole Puerto Rican barber shop. They took him in like family.
“I heard Spanish music coming from across the street,” Crespo said. “When I walked in, I asked, is there anywhere to get Puerto Rican food. They told me there wasn’t anywhere for miles. In that moment I had the idea of making the food myself. My grandma taught me how to cook everything — I knew how to cook.”
Crespo’s grandparents moved to Florida from Puerto Rico. They taught him their recipes as he was growing up, and he began making those recipes for the people at the barbershop. From there, things took off.
“They asked ‘what can you cook?’ and I said, well what do you want? I made them food from my home,” Crespo said. “I didn’t tell anyone, but they told their friends and their friends told more friends.”
Eventually Felipe’s friends at the barbershop helped get his name out there when he joined a Facebook group called “Latinos of Pittsburgh.” There, the immense amount of attention his dishes gained encouraged Crespo to get his catering license. He then began doing pop-ups at local breweries and bars, and at Pitt and Duquesne campuses.
“I saved up enough money to do other small events and eventually I got this food truck with the help and support of the community,” Crespo said.
Zachary Gibson | Tribune-Review
An authentic Puerto Rican Dish prepared by SDMA.
Felipe planned to open the food truck in August 2020, but fate had other plans. This prompted the Secretos team to creatively find ways to turn this setback into an advantage.
“The nation closed in March 2020 and that delayed all of our plans by a year. The team and I took this time to master recipes and plotted accordingly, because we knew when we opened up, we were gonna hit the ground running. Thus, in the midst of the pandemic, we decided to open so we can give the people some comfort during these trying times,” Crespo said.
Today, just off of Saw Mill Run Boulevard, at 92 Crane Ave., a shiny blue food truck displaying a very clever logo of a grandmother whispering to her grandson as well as the Puerto Rican flag hums to life as its workers eagerly grind away at their tasks within. It operates weekdays from 12 to 2 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m.
On the menu customers are sure to find something they’ll enjoy in an array of authentic Puerto Rican cultural classics like tripletas (sandwiches filled with three meats including steak, pork, and cubed ham, lettuce, tomato, and potato sticks) and mofongo (fried and mashed seasoned plantains). As well as modern favorites like street tacos, (a double corn tortilla with diced onions, cilantro, salsa, lime, and a choice of different meat or vegan options).
Crespo plans to spread the secret of Secretos to a wider reach, as he looks to put his food trucks in the North Side and Monroeville areas. He is looking forward to opening a Downtown storefront in the near future.
Until then, Secretos De Mis Abuelos will continue to provide their savory piece of home and community to the Pittsburgh area with an emphasis on bringing people together, as a way to honor Crespo’s grandparents and the relatives he still has in Puerto Rico.
“Through flavorful meals and community outreach, I was able to represent the indigenous Puerto Rican’s people,” Crespo said. “Puerto Rican culture just loves to infect people, with the food, with the music, with the dancing and the art. This is a stop for everybody to get a little taste of home. That’s what I strive for. I bring people together, I nourish them, and I honor my grandparents all at once.”