Berwyn natives win contest to turn food truck into restaurant at Yorktown Center

BERWYN – It’s been Berwyn resident Ernesto Torres’ lifelong dream to own a restaurant with his younger brother, Fernando, and after winning a contest at Lombard’s Yorktown Center this summer, their popular Berwyn-based food truck, Ofrenda, will open as a brick-and-mortar location in early 2019.

The contest, Taste for the Space, featured 12 Chicago-area food trucks, chefs and entrepreneurs who competed for a space in the popular shopping destination, plus a prize of $50,000 to use for their new business. The public was invited to sample food from each of the entrants on June 16 and vote for their favorite, while judges from Yorktown Center’s managing company, Pacific Retail Capital Partners, looked over each of the competitors’ business plans.

When Ofrenda was selected as the winner in July, Ernesto said it felt “exciting and unreal.”

“When we made it to the final three, I thought we had a good chance,” he said. “Yorktown was really interested in what we had to say, and it’s crazy to think that they chose us. We’re just two brothers who started a business out of a van, and we’ve come a long way.”

Ernesto, 30, and Fernando, 25, grew up in the restaurant business as their parents, Jose and Carmen Torres, have been the owners of El Meson Express in Berwyn for many years. Fernando now lives in Westchester.Ernesto said he always had an interest in the front of the house operations, while Fernando’s specialty has always been cooking. The two bought a food truck in 2014 and officially opened Ofrenda in 2015, rotating between serving food at craft breweries and community events.The food truck quickly became popular in the area, thanks to its specialties like the blue agave taco and mole nachos.Ernesto said people are often intrigued by Ofrenda’s theme, which pays homage to Dia de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead,” a traditional Mexican holiday.

“‘Ofrenda’ means offering in Spanish, so the food truck is our offering to the people,” Ernesto said. “We were always around [the Dia de los Muertos] tradition growing up, and we really enjoyed how our family made something that could be sad into something that’s happy. We want to celebrate food, celebrate life and keep the tradition of Dia de los Muertos alive.”

Najla Kayyem, senior vice president of marketing for Pacific Retail Capital Partners, said while the other contestants were very worthy of winning, Ofrenda was the clear standout. She said not only did the Torres brothers cook “amazing” food, but they also had charismatic personalities and a solid business plan.“They were the favorite among the public and the judges,” Kayyem said. “They’re authentic and produce a very high-quality product. They have big goals and dreams. We wanted to bring local and regional food purveyors to our customers and bring them the best food in the market.”Both brothers are looking forward to decorating their new space in Yorktown Center and expanding their menu. Fernando said there will be some exciting changes in the kitchen.“At first, we wanted to make simple food that’s not too complicated,” he said. “But our menu will now get bigger because we’ll have a bigger kitchen. The possibilities are endless, and I’m excited to cook new dishes.”

Even though Ernesto and Fernando will be busy with their new restaurant, they still will operate the food truck. Ernesto said they plan to continue catering private events and even hope to open a second restaurant someday.“Having a food truck was never the final goal. It’s a stepping stone,” he said. “We want to expand and move forward. There’s only so much you can do with a truck. But now that we have a brick-and-mortar location, people can come and get the Ofrenda experience at their convenience instead of following the truck around.”
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