Marketing Familiar Foods

THEY wanted me to sell hot dogs," scoffs Miguel Pleitez.

When the young Salvadoran man decided to open a street vending business, "experts" told him hot dogs were his best bet.

He ignored the advice and decided to peddle pupusas, a popular Salvadoran tortilla of corn flour, pork, cheese, and peppers. Now his truck rivals the local soccer games for attention.

"In El Salvador, people eat [pupusas] for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, whenever," he says. It's only natural that Salvadorans here would prefer them over hot dogs, he says.

Mr. Pleitez is part of a street economy that has blossomed with immigration to the area. The vendors, who hawk everything from cassettes to sliced mango, have been little affected by the unemployment and low wages that beset many Latino residents here. Pleitez, for instance, makes up to $400 a day on weekends.

The job often involves seven-day workweeks. Still, many manage to have fun while peddling their wares.

Herscell Gollopp, who has been bringing his truck to the same soccer field every Sunday for five years, jokes with familiar faces as he dollops beans and rice on paper plates.

"For me, this is like a day off," says Mr. Gollopp, who came here from Nicaragua nine years ago. During the week, when he sells dolls, cassettes, and clothes, he says, he is more serious.

But Gollopp looks forward to Sundays, when he brings his wife and sons to help him handle ravenous soccer players and their aficionados. His successful business has paid for a house in Virginia and his daughter's college tuition.

Gollopp has seen nine of his friends venture into street vending. Many Latinos used to own their own businesses before coming to the United States, he says.

Like him, he explains, they tired of jobs here that required them to sit at a desk and take orders.

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