According to permitting records filed with Pasco County, the popular food-truck-turned-mini-restaurant is planning to set up its ninth Tampa Bay location within a month inside the Tailgate Mart convenience store on the northeast corner of Wesley Chapel Blvd. and S.R. 56, behind the Shell Station.
“We just finished getting permitting done and are aiming to get that location up and running by September,’’ said Heather Chaudhry, director of marketing and operations, adding that another location in Treasure Island is also set to open around the same time.
The Tailgate Mart, located at 25195 S.R. 54, currently has a deli that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner items, but it will be remodeled to accommodate the latest entry into the busy eatery scene along S.R. 56/54 corridor.
Chaudhry said Taco Bus typically prefers stand-alone locations, but they do make exceptions in high-volume areas, like the intersection of S.R. 56 and S.R. 54/Wesley Chapel Blvd.
“We’re not looking to do many locations like this,’’ she said. “Wesley Chapel is an up-and-coming location, so it’s a very good place to be, with all the development and expansion in that area.”
Taco Bus has achieved something of a cult status since its humble and quirky beginnings in 1996 as a converted school bus operating as a food truck on E. Hillsborough Ave. selling authentic Mexican fare. Chef Rene Valenzuela quickly expanded to St. Petersburg, before taking the food truck concept inside and opening a restaurant in downtown Tampa, although he retained the school bus setting and charm.
Taco Bus achieved notoriety in 2011 when it was featured on an episode of Food Network’s Man v. Food, as well as an episode of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
The nearest current location to Wesley Chapel is on E. Fletcher Ave. in the University of South Florida area. With its late hours, affordable prices and popular conchintina pibil (slow-roasted pork), el hefe burritos, 99 cent empanadas and $2 tacos on Tuesdays, it is a popular stop for local college students.
“Wesley Chapel is not far from many of our other locations,’’ Chaudhry said. “We’re lucky in that aspect, that we have some exposure in the area. We are always looking to bring the bus experience to our other customers in the area.”
The Taco Bus will be located in the westernmost portion of the Cypress Creek Town Center DRI, directly north and across S.R. 56 from a proposed Aldi store.
Directly west of the Taco Bus is the Brightwork Crossing project, which is expected to bring a Wawa and Burger King to S.R. 54 as well. Representatives from both of those companies have already met with the county to pursue permits.
Burger King is looking to construct a 3,349-sq.-ft. restaurant on S.R. 54, just west of the proposed 5,636-sq.-ft. Wawa.