Southern Mac & Cheese to open store

By Amanda Murphy

A growing trend may allow Chicagoans to enjoy their favorite food truck fare in a fixed setting as well as on the street.

The Southern Mac & Cheese food truck will be opening a store in the near future to appease its devoted followers and make the mobile operation’s work easier. Southern is one of two Chicago-based food trucks that has moved into a fixed space for its culinary concoctions.

“When we started looking for space, we figured we might as well have a storefront where we can sell [food] out of the front and load the truck out the back,” said Cary Taylor, executive chef at The Southern, the parent eatery of the truck operation, 1840 W. North Ave.

The store, located at 60 E. Lake St., was set to open the week of Sept. 19, but construction has delayed the opening, Taylor said.

The kitchen of The Southern, the restaurant that birthed the macaroni and cheese, has made the food for the truck since it began around seven months ago. However, due to conflicting dining times and limited room, a new space was needed. The kitchen at the new store is approximately the same size, Taylor said, but will be used only for the preparation of the food for the store and the truck.

“It’s going to allow us to do more things,” Taylor said. “We can now utilize the truck to do more evening runs and special events.”

The store’s opening comes at a unique time for food trucks, with the City Council considering a proposed ordinance that will allow onboard cooking, something the vehicles in New York City and Los Angeles are already allowed to do.

Matt Maroni, Gaztro-Wagon owner and the first person to offer a meal-based food truck in Chicago, has a brick-and-mortar store, 5973 N. Clark St., that he launched at the same time as his truck. Morso, the restaurant he opened on Aug. 23, would not have been possible without the reputation he built and the people he met through Gaztro-Wagon, he said.

Taylor said he thinks food trucks are a great way to be in the business and brand a concept without the hassles of owning a restaurant.

He added that he can also see it as a great way to build a reputation and save money so the owners could open a restaurant down the line.

Alex Levine, creator of the website, said she has mixed feelings about the food trucks going into storefronts.

With the mobile food concept being relatively new to Chicago, Levine said this may take away from the novelty of the business. On the other hand, she said she understands the need for more space and an easier way to manage the truck.

Levine also said food trucks and restaurants and storefronts are not necessarily synonymous. A truck usually focuses on a few specialty items, she said, but with a restaurant more variety is needed to complete a menu.

“It really depends on the truck’s concept,” Levine said. “What a lot of people really love about food trucks is the convenience of it, the fact it’s right outside their door, and it’s just fun to go to a food truck for some people.”

She said despite the speculation, she is excited about the direction food trucks are going in Chicago. Comparing it to a family and community, Levine said she observes the trucks supporting one another in various ways, like helping new ones get “the lay of the land.”

Maroni, meanwhile, also has high hopes for the future of the food truck business.

“I think it’s awesome that [The Southern Mac & Cheese Truck] did so well,” Maroni said. “This gives them the ability to sell all day long—and will give them more brand awareness. I’m sure that there are many [food truck owners] that want to open a store and this is giving them the opportunity.”