TAMPA — Maybe 2021 will be better after all.
Dora Botero and her boyfriend Mirco Falcone had to shut down the pizza truck they had sunk their life savings into because of the coronavirus. It nearly ruined them, but after three months they reopened in July and started building back business. Then in November, someone in a pickup hitched up “Pizzeataly” and drove off with it.
“2020 is definitely not a year to remember,” Falcone said.
But Falcone, a 57-year-old Italian immigrant, has a philosophy: “I always believed that hope is the last thing to be lost.”
His loyal customers have rewarded his optimism by raising $11,398 through GoFundMe, enough to finance the purchase of a replacement for their trademark red food truck with its special brick oven. They reopened Jan. 28. The “pizze” in Pizzeataly is the plural of pizza in Italian.
“It’s been very tough,” said Botero, 48, originally from Colombia. “But thank God we are recovering again.”
With a smile, Falcone added, “It’s like being born again.”
The couple had been scraping to get by since then theft, sticking to the food business, with Falcone working 12 hours a day driving for Uber Eats and Botero making lunches and selling them to friends and neighbors.
They had the truck parked on West Hillsborough Avenue at Sawyer Road when a security camera from a nearby store recorded the Ford F-150 pulling away with their trailer about 4 a.m. Nov. 16.
“It was less than seven minutes,” Falcone recalled.
The couple had saved for eight years to buy the truck, valued at $35,000. The investigation into the theft remains open, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
Botero and Falcone are taking extra steps this time to make sure no one makes off with their new truck.
They had trouble getting theft insurance on the first truck but this time they persisted and they’re covered. They bought special locks to block the tires and plan to install their own security cameras soon.
“We are definitely not going to let it happen to us again,” Botero said as she helped Falcone with the day’s orders.
They began selling their wood-fired Neapolitan pizza as Pizzeataly in August 2019. Before the pandemic hit, business had been steadily growing. The pizza often comes topped with ricotta, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, mozzarella and black olives, and the menu also includes Italian sandwiches and gourmet pasta.
Among the customers who pitched in with a GoFundMe contribution was Carlos Arellano, a 28-year-old electrician from Colombia. Arellano recently stopped to buy a couple of pizzas and surprise his family.
“Other people would have closed this chapter of their lives, but they are still here,” Arellano said. “I think they are persistent. They are definitely an example for everyone.”
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Falcone sees hard work and growth in his future.
“It’s like starting from scratch,” he said, “but it doesn’t matter. We have the support and the affection of our customers.”