Chicago Food Trucks’ New Twist: Their Own Permanent Restaurants

Chicago Food Trucks’ New Twist: Their Own Permanent Restaurants

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CHICAGO, IL - Downtown restaurants long have complained that roving food trucks are taking away business. The Southern Mac & Cheese Truck is turning the tables: It just opened its own restaurant in the Loop.

It’s an evolutionary path likely to be repeated by a number of Chicago’s food trucks—currently numbering around 30—as the mobile-restaurant industry matures in Chicago and food truck operators build strong followings and brand names via Twitter and their own mobile signboards.

“Food trucks are a great way to explore a brand with less overhead (than a store),” said Matt Maroni, owner of Gaztro-Wagon, who now operates his own brick-and-mortar restaurant in Lincoln Park, MorSo. “But it’s not easy out there on the streets in the winter.”

Southern Mac & Cheese Truck opens a permanent location at 60 E. Lake St.

Cary Taylor, co-owner of The Southern Mac & Cheese Truck, said he and his business partner, Jim Lasky, wanted a downtown location—the 35-seat store opened at 60 E. Lake St. on Wednesday—to capitalize on the Loop’s lunch scene, which has paid off for their macaroni-and-cheese delivery truck.

“We bring the truck to the Loop a lot,” Mr. Taylor said. “We knew that we were going to be a lunchtime business, and there’s obviously no better place for lunchtime foot traffic than here.”

Also, the traditional restaurant, which offers a wider selection of lunch fare, including sandwiches and salads, will allow Messrs. Taylor and Lasky to steer their truck through other neighborhoods.

The Southern Mac & Cheese Truck, which started in February as an offshoot of The Southern, a Bucktown restaurant, likely will see other truck operators decide to park it, too.

A truck that specializes in Argentine cuisine, 5411 Empandas, is “very close” to signing a lease for a Lincoln Park location, said co-owner Nicolas Ibarzabal. It’s a deal that he said would not have happened without selling empandas on the street.

“The truck has been amazing for us,” Mr. Ibarzabal said. He said sales were up 500% from what 5411 Empandas had been doing in just its catering business. In addition, banks were more willing to provide loans after the restaurant had a proven track record.

Mr. Maroni, who started Gaztro-Wagon’s Edgewater store and food truck simultaneously last year, opened MorSo in Lincoln Park last month. In this case, the restaurant doesn’t mimic the food truck’s menu: MorSo is a pricy place specializing in seafood, offal and game, while Gaztro-Wagon sells naan-wrapped sandwiches.

Still, Mr. Maroni said MorSo, at 340 W. Armitage Ave., was a direct outcome of his success with Gaztro-Wagon.

Find the entire article from Crain’s Chicago <here>

 


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