Boricua Soul: a fusion of heritage and flavor

Photo courtesy of Toriano Fredericks.

Boricua Soul is a restaurant built on family and culture.

“Boricua” originates from the Taino designation for Puerto Rico, Boriquen. “Soul” represents soul food which is cherished in African-American culture. Boricua Soul is a melding of Toriano Fredericks African-American heritage and Serena Fredericks Puerto Rican culture.

An appreciation for food was instilled in Toriano from a young age. He was raised in Connecticut by his southern grandparents who relocated up north during the Great Migration of African-Americans. Every Sunday, Toriano would observe from afar as his grandmother, Emma Thompson, skillfully crafted a spread of soul food in the kitchen. 

Not too far away in the vibrant borough of Queens, New York, Serena’s upbringing unfolded with a rich tapestry of cultures. Raised by her Puerto Rican mother and father of African-American and Italian American descent, Serena’s roots are diverse. Yet, her favorite Puerto Rican dishes left an indelible mark on her childhood, imparting tradition that shapes the way she cooks today.

Once Toriano and Serena met, their kitchen became a fusion of both of their cultures, always experimenting with flavors and creating new dishes.

For many years Toriano worked as a professional merchant mariner and started a food blog as he traveled around the world, tasting and reviewing all kinds of cuisine. But once the couple’s son, Devin, was born, Toriano longed to be at home with his family more often, not away at sea. 

With the Fredericks already having an innate passion for food, the idea for Boricua Soul began. And it started out as a food truck.

“[The blending of Puerto Rican and soul food] was authentic to us,” Toriano said. “It was something we were already doing. Again, two people that were going to be starting a food business, with no prior restaurant experience or small business experience, so it [the food] was something we were extremely comfortable with.”

After looking at several trucks, they found the one. But it needed work, and a lot of it. It was a 1999 tool truck, lacking any built-in kitchen equipment. The Fredericks entrusted Jack of All Trades by George, a custom food truck builder, to help turn their family’s dream into a reality.   

Five months later, the Fredericks opened the food truck for Boricua Soul in October 2015. 

From the moment the truck was parked at its first event, Boricua Soul captured the hearts and palates of Durham’s community. Regardless of whether locals shared a culture with the Fredericks or not, the food that passed through the takeout window wasn’t just made with love, it was made with timeless flavors that have been passed on through generations. It’s not just food, it’s a narrative. 

“There’s a history there [in the food], that’s who we are,” Toriano said. “We never claim to be authentic to anything, except for exactly who we are.”

The launch of Boricua Soul addressed a culinary void within Durham’s community, offering a primary destination for a fusion of Puerto Rican and soul food fare.

“The flavor is unmatched,” Nick Tronca, Boricua Soul customer, said. “All of the food is great and I had never had an empanada before but I loved it. Definitely one of my favorite spots in Durham.”

With continuing success, but not without some bumps along the road, Boricua Soul was able to open a restaurant in late 2019. 

The American Tobacco Campus introduced a unique opportunity for local businesses, encouraging them to apply to inhabit an open store space for a month. This experience provided invaluable hands-on learning in the operations of running a brick-and-mortar.

“Serena applied for it and we ended up getting the opportunity,” Toriano said. “That was successful for us there. Within the first week they asked us if we were interested in any restaurant space that they had some open space on campus.”

The choice was simple, and the answer was an easy “yes”. The Fredericks couldn’t wait to open up a permanent establishment.

Several months after the restaurant opened, the unthinkable happened– the COVID-19 pandemic. Luckily the Fredericks swiftly adapted to the drastic changes and were able to function efficiently through to-go orders. 

“The way our space is set up, we have these big glass doors that slide open. So we just slid those doors open and pushed the POS out to the front door,” Toriano said. “And we have a beautiful covered patio, so just kind of operated from there. We did the same kind of things that all restaurants did moving to delivery, getting on third-party apps and trying to offer various take home items.”

Since the pandemic, the restaurant has been able to open their glass doors offering a relaxed ambiance with indoor and outdoor seating. 

Located in the heart of American Tobacco Campus, Boricua Soul has transformed into a restaurant where every employee and customer is treated like family. 

“They [the Fredericks] are very welcoming,” Manzili Kokayi, employee at Boricua Soul said. “I would say it is very community-centered.” 

Evolving beyond the Fredericks initial dream, families and friends are able to sit and appreciate the history behind the food.  

Boricua Soul is not just a restaurant, it is a gathering place that celebrates culture. A true testament to the power of tenaciously following one’s dreams and turning them into a reality.

Edited by Margaux Hunter & Phillip Le

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