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Local street vendor keeping 'paletero' culture alive; aims to help other vendors

With the new ordinance being placed by a city council committee, a local street vendor hopes to help other struggling mobile vendors trying to obtain permits.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — For some mobile vendors they have no choice but to start their business street vending. 

Many times it's because low income families cannot afford the process of starting a business in a rental space. For others it's an honor to start a business like street vending because it reminds them of where they come from.  

That’s what 45-year-old “paletero” or ice cream man, Victor Rodriguez, has been walking the streets of San Diego selling delicious frozen treats for the past year.

“It feels great, after all these generations it feels amazing to keep this culture alive,” said Rodgriguez.

He started his family owned business, Rodriguez Paleteros, with his wife hoping to show his kids what real hard work looks like. 

“Our kids really enjoy the process of us starting our own business and it motivates them to want to be small business owners or want to be their own bosses,” said his wife, Rosa Rodriguez 

 As a young boy, Rodriguez grew up in a low income family. His own father was a paletero too, making this business a lot more special to him. However, unlike Rodriguez, his dad had no other choice but to be a street vendor. 

“When he was doing the paletero, it finally clicked. This was his means of providing for us. Helping us get what we want, whether it was school supplies or field trips. That’s how he would provide for us, and he was great at it,” said Rodriguez. 

For him, there was a different reason, choosing this career for himself, his wife and three kids. All to keep the declining paletero business alive.  

“All the paleteros from back generations are getting elderly, and they just don’t want to go out anymore. Or they can’t go out anymore. So I just want to keep that culture alive,” said Rodriguez. 

Rodriguez also adds that other street vendors leave the business because the requirements for food vendors have become far more difficult and costly. 

The main hurdle is a health permit, where a vendor must have a code compliant cart approved by the department of public health.  

“The pandemic slowed things down, you weren’t able to ask certain questions and you couldn’t meet face-to-face and get shown where to look for certain things. So the process was even more difficult.” 

However, not every street vendor selling food can afford permits, and if they do they don’t know where to start.  

This is why the Rodriguez family also aims to help other street vendors struggling to keep their mobile businesses.  

“Our inbox is always open for whoever needs information or is asking questions. A lot of times they just want to ask someone who has already gone through it,” said Rosa Rodriguez.

They also donate their ice cream to families in the underserved communities. This is all to highlight how street vendors are just as hard-working as everyone else. 

If you are looking to get a permit and need information visit here. 

WATCH RELATED: San Diego Chamber of Commerce provides updates on street vendors and rent relief programs (February 2022)

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