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From food truck to restaurant

With dozens of food trucks popping up throughout the Triangle, many Chapel Hill business owners are using these mobile businesses to enter the restaurant business or expand their restaurants.

Captain Poncho’s Mexican Grill opened its first brick-and-mortar restaurant in Southern Village shopping center in September. But the business originally got its start in 2009 as a taco truck.

Carolina Escobar, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband Hector, said they decided to open the restaurant to support their two food trucks.

In North Carolina, food truck vendors are required to obtain a permit to sell food. In the Triangle, part of the requirements for obtaining a food truck permit is having a restaurant or commissary kitchen where food is prepared to be served on the truck.

“It was more convenient for us to have a restaurant,” Escobar said. “With the restaurant, we can cook everything here, and the truck can come pick it up.”

She said the restaurant has seen a good amount of customers so far and a lot of the traffic is due to loyal fans of the truck.

“We cook with love,” Escobar said. “That’s something that we learned through the food truck. A lot of restaurants don’t cook with love.”

Other Chapel Hill restaurants such as Mixed Casual Korean Bistro and Bandido’s Mexican Cafe sought to expand the reach of their stationary restaurants through food trucks.

Mixed, which opened on East Franklin Street in 2013, serves modern Korean cuisine. Jimmy Kim, co-owner of Mixed, said the restaurant launched its food truck in June 2015.

“We just thought it would be a relatively cheap and easy way of opening up another revenue source,” Kim said. “But it turns out that running a food truck is actually hard work.”

Kim said although maintaining the food truck requires more consistent effort in scoping out locations and anticipating demand, the truck allows him to bring the restaurant to the customers.

The Mixed food truck has regular locations it visits, like Duke University on Mondays.

The Chapel Hill location of Bandido’s celebrated its 21st anniversary last year and released its “Tiny Traveling Taco Trailer” in 2012.

Owner Tony Sustaita said the trailer started out with catering services but has gone on to travel to many local events, businesses and organizations.

“Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy the restaurant. I love this business,” Sustaita said. “But with the food truck we’re actually invited to the places we go to, there’s no competition and we don’t have to spend money on ads convincing people to come to us. We hear, ‘You are our favorite food truck,’ and that feels really good.”

He said the trick to a successful food truck is good service.

“As crazy as this sounds, good food is a given, but you have to have a good personality,” Sustaita said.

Sustaita said Bandido’s is currently building a full-sized food truck, complete with a disco ball, which should be in operation by the spring.

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