Food trucks are rolling into Chapel Hill. Literally.
After opening its second brick and mortar location in Carrboro, Monterrey Mexican Restaurant dove into the food truck business in June.
Their food truck, located on Chapel Hill Tire’s parking lot, sells food from 6 p.m. to midnight on Tuesdays to Thursdays and from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Unlike Monterrey’s menu at their restaurant, the food truck serves fewer items, but they still sell customer favorites like street tacos, Arroz con Pollo and taco supremes.
"A big percentage of our customers are UNC students, and we want them to know about our restaurants,” Monterrey owner Jose Linares said. “So, (with the food truck), we can give them a small taste of what we have."
In August 2014, Sutton’s Drug Store and Pantana Bob's teamed up to open Pantana Bob's & Sutton's Food Truck, which serves hamburgers and hot dogs from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily.
“Food trucks are lots of hard work, like any restaurant business,” Sutton’s Drug Store owner Dawn Penney said. “It’s demanding. And, if someone hires you for an event, it’s very fast paced for a very short period of time.”
Time Out Restaurant also uses a food truck to sell their food. Their truck is three-years-old, but its business is now mostly limited to private settings like weddings, church events and fundraisers.
“Usually students (come to the food truck) because they know Time Out, and when they get married and the food truck is there, they’re overjoyed,” owner Eddie Williams said. “It’s fun.”
Mirroring their in-store favorites, chicken cheddar biscuits, mac and cheese, collard greens, biscuit pudding and chicken barbecue are Time Out’s most popular menu items.
“It’s not that much different (from working at a restaurant), except you have to deal with the elements,” Williams said. “If it’s hot, it’s hot.”
However, many newer trucks said they are having difficulty operating in Chapel Hill because of stricter regulations.
"Chapel Hill charges a lot of money for the opportunity to even (operate a food truck),” Bobby Huelle, owner of Smoothie Revolutions, said. “The rules for them are a lot more complicated, and they enforce the rules a lot more diligently."
Huelle said he primarily does business in Durham and Carrboro, but wants to break into the Chapel Hill market.
"In the Triangle, the easiest place to have a food truck is in Durham, which is why there are hundreds of food trucks in Durham," he said. "Whenever I parked in Durham, I just found an empty space. They've never given me any trouble at all. In fact, the police officers there come up to my truck to buy smoothies.”
Because of comparatively looser laws, food trucks in Carrboro are on the rise.
"In Carrboro, there are a lot of taco trucks,” Linares said. “I think there are close to 10, but I'm the only taco truck in Chapel Hill."
Many Carrboro trucks, like Smoothie Revolutions, are trying to distinguish themselves from the competition. Huelle opened and built his Smoothie Revolutions truck himself to introduce healthier food options in food trucks and hopes to turn Smoothie Revolutions into a franchise.
"(To be successful), you have to find a spot that has high-flow traffic,” Wade Womble, owner of Dough Broughs donut truck, said. “You have to find those regular customers who enjoy the actual experience of eating out at a food truck, which I think Carrboro and Chapel Hill are good at."
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.