Parked deliberately on the corner across the street from Wendy’s, Will & Pop’s food truck makes a statement.
“Everyone’s hooked on fast food,” said Kenny Pettis, 46, the “Pop” of Will & Pop’s, “but I’ve got a sandwich that’s made-to-order, and I’m keeping it in the community, unlike big corporations.”
Kenny and Will Pettis, the father-and-son duo who opened their truck for business on Dec. 30, 2010, are making their alternative to fast food business as local as possible.
Their staple ingredients come from the heart of Carrboro: sourdough bread from Weaver Street Market and meat, cheese and produce from Cliff’s Meat Market.
Even their truck is local. The Pettises bought the food truck from Glenn Boothe, the owner of Local 506. It was formerly used to drive a candy-delivery route and included tall sets of shelves across the interior.
Will and Kenny gutted the truck of everything but a few shelves and a small stool by the window. They then installed all of the appliances — a refrigerator, deep fryer, grill, potato-cutter and battery-heated hot water dispenser — on their own.
Kenny, who has 30 years of mechanical experience from his time in construction, said Will is a quick study. But Will, 24, is even quicker to divert the credit.
“Google knows how to do everything,” Will said with a laugh.
The father and son first hatched the idea to open a food truck after watching “The Great Food Truck Race” on Food Network.
“When Will first mentioned the idea, I was like, ‘Huh…There are taco trucks in Carrboro, but we need something different in this town!’,” Kenny said.
Open for lunch and late-night dining, the cash-only food truck alternates its menu to better serve the customer demands of each mealtime.
Will, who lives in Greensboro, works the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. lunch shift on Monday through Friday at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Hillsborough Street in Chapel Hill. He has more time to cook each order because the shift is less populated, and hamburgers, hot dogs and freshly cut fries are customers’ favorite lunch choices.
“I make a mean hot dog,” Will said.
Kenny, often with the assistance of Will, stations the truck at Cliff’s Meat Market on 100 W. Main St. on Fridays and Saturdays for the 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. “Late Nite” shift, an dining time created by Will and Kenny that centers its menu around grilled cheese sandwiches.
“I chose grilled cheese because of its convenience,” Kenny said. “It’s quick to cook and goes out fast. That sourdough and cheese makes for the prefect late-night snack,” Kenny said with a relishing smile.
“When I leave a bar drunk, I don’t want [something like] soup — I want something greasy and meaty,” Will added.
The quintessential Late Nite meal at Will & Pop’s combines both meat and grease to create “the Gangsta,” a grilled cheese sandwich layered with spicy, salty pulled pork.
“If you eat a grilled cheese with pulled pork, you’ve gotta be a gangsta,” said Kenny with a wide grin from under his hooded maroon sweatshirt.
The Late Nite menu also includes “the Hippy” (grilled cheese with homemade guacamole), “the Mother Clucker” (grilled cheese with chicken), and “the Stoner,” which combines homemade pumpkin bread, peanut butter, bananas and marshmallow fluff.
“When I was younger I used to love toast with peanut butter,” Kenny said in reference to his inspiration for the Stoner. “When it melts, it’s pure deliciousness.”
From peanut butter to cheese and butter, every item on Will & Pop’s Late Nite menu offers a melted sensation.
“We use at least a pound of butter each night,” Will said.
The Pettises are beginning to notice customers who have become regulars. Based on feedback, Will and Kenny are growing more confident in the made-fresh, friendly business model they have strived to build.
“Last night someone told me it was the best grilled cheese she’d ever had,” Kenny said, pausing to look up from the Hippy he was grilling. “When someone says something like that, it’s like, ‘Damn!’”
Carol Small, a small-business owner from Chapel Hill, ordered a Late Nite meal of grilled cheese and fries on Saturday night.
“The fries are amazing — they actually taste like potatoes! As opposed to that fake fast food stuff,” Small said.
In hopes of broadening their fan base, Will and Kenny will soon be extending their Late Nite menu to the students of UNC-Chapel Hill.
“When it gets warmer we’ll start a bike-delivery system that has a texting-only ordering system,” Will said.
On Monday, they established a new lunch location at the Dead Mule Club at 303 W. Franklin St.
The truck will continue to change locations for lunch and Late Nite until Will and Kenny find the places that draw the most customers. Their daily and weekly locations can be found by checking their Twitter account.
“We’re trying to build a brand from the ground up,” Kenny said. “A lot of this is a labor of love, man.”