In a way, Chris and Kriszell Esteves’ Cristianos is a food truck venture two years in the making.
Its launch was preceded by a suspected scam, a sudden career shift, the couple’s return to the mainland, Super Typhoon Yutu, and a dip in tourism numbers affecting the local economy.
Chris said he’s spent most of his life around restaurants in his hometown Philadelphia. He has also worked in casinos in Las Vegas and that’s what brought him to Imperial Pacific Resort in 2015 where he worked as a floor supervisor.
Two years later, he quit his job at the Saipan casino to start a bento business from home with his wife. Couples Kitchen quickly became a local favorite with its delectable tacos, quesadillas, sliders, and burgers with Chris’ distinct Philly twist.
With aspirations to grow the suddenly thriving mom-and-pop business, Chris contacted a seller from China and ordered a custom-built food truck for an undisclosed amount.
Weeks turned into months and the made-to-order food truck that would become the backbone of the Esteves’ new food truck business hasn’t showed up yet at Saipan customs. It also didn’t help that the vendor where Chris brought the food truck from had essentially ghosted him.
Fearing he was scammed and now out a small fortune, Chris and Kriszell decided to go back to the mainland to pick up the pieces. Despite the unfortunate turn of events, Chris maintained his dream of having a successful food business on Saipan, an island he has really fallen in love with.
Chris again worked at a casino in Colorado to recoup the money he thought he lost in the alleged scam. In early 2018, unexpected good news greeted the Esteveses when an email alerted them that the food truck was finally delivered on Saipan.
With that, Chris and Kriszell’s dream of a food truck business jump-started anew and they made it back to the island in March 2019. Sure, it didn’t help that Yutu suddenly pummeled the islands in October 2018 and the damage the food truck unit sustained set them back a few months before launching Cristianos, which is named after their first-born son. They also have a younger daughter, Chloe.
A couple of weeks ago, Cristianos finally made its debut at the Thursday Market at the Garapan Fishing Base to rave reviews. The island community starving for new tastes instantly embraced the food truck’s odd but delightful combination of Mexican and East Coast flavors.
Just last week, Cristianos opened across Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in Garapan. For now, the food truck’s staples are its Philly steak quesadilla, chicken quesadilla, pulled pork tacos, Philly steak fries, and loaded nachos. Customers can also order sides and add-ons like crab fries with cheese, pico de gallo, and extra cheese sauce.
Most days, Chris and Kriszell also whip out specials like the Philly steak burger and pulled pork sliders.
Chris said what makes Cristianos unique on Saipan is the Philadelphia-style cooking he learned growing up in the City of Brotherly Love. He also volunteered that he imports his cheese from the East Coast, which makes it as authentic as it could be.
“To be honest I created all these recipes on my own and mixing my home flavors with the types of cuisines I enjoyed eating. Our food may sound Tex-Mex but it’s just flavors I combined and we really hope the people on Saipan enjoy them as much as we do,” he said.
Asked if the slowdown in the local economy following Yutu would affect his fledgling food truck venture, Chris said he doesn’t really look at things in the short term and trusts that tourists and the local economy in general will bounce right back in the long run.
“I just stick to what I love and that’s cooking great-tasting food. Everybody needs to eat so why not eat good food,” he said.
Currently, Cristianos is open for lunch (11am-2pm) and dinner (4:30pm-9:30pm), from Monday to Friday. For orders and the lunch delivery service, call 789-8711.