TAMPA — For eight years Dora Botero and her boyfriend Mirco Falcone saved every dollar to buy a food truck and start a wood-fired pizza business. The dream they longed for came true in August 2019 when they began selling their pizzas as “Pizzeataly.”
“It was a family victory. We were all happy,” said Botero, 48, who is originally from Colombia. “The food truck was the result of our work and our savings.”
But on Nov. 16, the pride and happiness of the family turned into frustration and anger. That day, the couple received a call from a friend asking if they had decided to move the food truck to another location. It was unusual for the food truck not to be parked at the intersection of Hillsborough Avenue and Sawyer Road.
“I didn’t understand what he was saying to me,” said Falcone, a 57-year-old Italian immigrant. How could it be possible?”
A security camera from a nearby store recorded the theft. In the surveillance video, shortly before 4 a.m., a Ford F-150 can be seen pulling away with the food truck in tow.
Falcone said the operation had to have been well planned because the thief only needed seven minutes to force the locks and security chains on the food truck.
“The police are still investigating the case but there are no more leads at this time,” said Falcone, a veteran of the restaurant industry in his native country. “We can only wait and see how we can solve our lives because the food truck was our only family income.”
Botero said they were making more than $4,000 a month, discounting the rent of the space where the food truck was parked and their operating costs. The couple had been working 12 hours a day, from Monday to Saturday, to recover the income they lost during the months of April and May due to the pandemic.
“We thought we were passing the most difficult test of our lives due to the coronavirus because a lot of people are losing their jobs or simply they don’t have enough money to support their families,” said Botero. “And now look what happens to us. It is awful”.
The couple said the food truck cost them $35,000. But it wasn’t insured, because the food truck did not qualify under certain policies. It was equipped with a special brick oven, embedded in the kitchen wall to resist high temperatures and to absorb and retain heat. It also had two refrigerators and a large counter to prepare the pizzas.
Falcone said that he was thinking of installing a couple of cameras two months ago because someone vandalized their portable toilet.
“I really felt that someone was taking all our sacrifices and efforts from us without knowing why,” said Falcone. “We don’t deserve it. Nobody deserves something like that”.
Botero said the family has no money saved. For now they depend on the generosity of friends and family to stay afloat.
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Botero prepares lunches that she occasionally sells to friends and neighbors. Falcone became an Uber driver.
“We are honest and hardworking people. We want to work as always for our families, but the situation is quite difficult,” said Falcone.
Malvin Melendez, a friend and client of Pizzeataly, described the Falcone-Botero couple as an example of perseverance and sacrifice. He said they were always serving their customers with goodwill and a positive attitude despite this year’s hardships and the pandemic.
“They were always smiling and ready to help others,” said Melendez, 40. “I’m very happy to cross their path and call them my friends”.
Melendez is hosting an event on Dec. 5, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., at 6821 W Hillsborough Ave., to help the Falcone-Botero family buy a new food truck. The reason is simple, he said.
“They don’t deserve to be going through this situation right now.”
Miguel Garcia, Botero’s son, set up a GoFundMe page to help his family. By Wednesday afternoon the initiative had raised more than $ 6,000 of the $35,000 goal.
“We’re already more than thankful for everybody who has been supporting us,” said Garcia, 25. “I know that this is just a setback and I know that God has something bigger in store for them.”
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office says this case is still under investigation. Anyone with information related to the case can call 813-247-8200.
How to help: Friends of Pizzeataly are collecting donations. To donate visit Help us bring PIZZEATALY back! at Gofundme.com