Nick Thomas, owner of Automatic Taco, normally a very conservative person, took the chance that the Upstate was ready for his concept. He explains, "There are a lot of great taco places in Atlanta and I wanted to have something like that here. I saw the truck for sale and I bought it." In April 2015 Automatic Taco began dishing out top notch, creative tacos.
Before moving to Greenville, Nick worked in Athens, Georgia in a variety of places. On making Greenville his home, he began his culinary journey in the kitchens of American Grocery. After working there for about a year and a half he took the Automatic Taco leap of faith.
Not all the cooking and prep work for the food is done on the truck. "We have to have a shared commissary kitchen," says Nick. Regulations only allow for so many people to be prepping in one kitchen at the same time. With the growing number of food trucks in Greenville, renting kitchens with the proper certifications has become somewhat of a cottage industry here.
The prep work involves more than chopping potatoes or slicing meat. Washing cilantro and sharpening knives are examples of little steps that take more time than one would think. Chris, Nick's dependable co-worker, laughs that "some days, all we do is cut potatoes."
Using a whetstone is the traditional way of sharpening knives. "Having a sharp knife is extremely important," Nick states emphatically, "and getting good whetstones is the most important thing in getting the knives sharp." There are different stones with different levels of grit to get the knife down to the sharpest edge possible.
Chris, originally from South Africa, started working on the truck through an internet ad. He and Nick have worked on the truck together from its beginning. In these two years they developed a telepathic connection during service on the truck, doing a delicate dance in that small space while giving each other the room to create.
When asked "why tacos?" Nick says, "Tacos can be adapted to any cuisine. If you do Cuban sandwiches for instance, you're kind of stuck with a Cuban sandwich and certain ingredients." Nick rotates his menu but certain items appear frequently. During the busy season, he tries to keep the menu simple in order not to over-complicate each service.
"People don't realize just how long and how much prep we have to do for one service," states Nick. "I do most of the prep on Mondays and some before each day of service." Ahhh, the price of delicious.
Their secret? Quality ingredients fresh from the fields.
Forty five minutes of set up at the destination includes finishing touches like chopping cilantro, cooking meats and vegetables, and preparing the signage, utensils, and register. "I don't like to be late," Nick says pointedly.
"In the two years we've been doing the truck, we've done about 40 different tacos," Nick said. "A lot of them are permutations but we mix it up. Our food isn't Mexican per se, but it has a lot of those influences."
Nick's wife Chrissy takes great pride in taking orders and running the window in the truck.
Service is chaotic and fast paced. Automatic Taco has loyal customers, as they frequent the same businesses, breweries, and various other locations around town. Nick keeps them happy by honoring their requests or customizing their order.
The truck is essentially a converted RV, Nick says. "It has everything a normal professional kitchen would have, but it's tiny."
The street corn has the perfect amount of saltiness and sweet to go along with the myriad of textures in each bite. Unlike some street corn that is done on a grill or oven, which often leaves much of the corn cooked unevenly, Nick and Chris deep fry the corn to get that perfect cook on each kernel.
Nick and Chris have come a long way since their first service. When asked how that went, they just look at each other and laugh.
The veggie taco is a truck favorite. It's like eating the essence of Automatic Taco. All of the flavors play with each other beautifully and have enough substance to make it a filling taco, even without meat.
Nick and Chris seem determined to keep bringing their signature fresh and flavorful tacos to all parts of the Upstate. If you see the Automatic Taco truck driving around town, check their Instagram or Facebook page to see their schedule and follow them to their destination. Wherever the truck is located, once you take your first bite of Automatic Taco, you can be sure that you'll be back for more!
Food Truck schedule from our partners @iOnGreenville
Writer: Russell Sanford