Little truck, big dreams
Big World’s Tortas joins growing Aon food truck scene
His truck may be tiny — the smallest in the lunchtime brigade — but that doesn’t stop AJ Castillo, 26, from having Aon-sized ambition.
“I envision having my own restaurant, with a patio area and a food truck outside,” says Castillo, owner of Big World’s Tortas, which began serving up Mexican specialties outside the Aon Center in August. Big World’s is the latest addition to a burgeoning number of food trucks on an otherwise culinary barren strip of Columbus, from Randolph Street to the CVS.
Growing up near Midway Airport, Castillo says he was inspired by his father, who was both a police officer and Laundromat owner. Castillo’s space galaxy-themed truck, with its painted-on stars and picture of the Chicago skyline, represents what he calls the “in between” state.
“I’m somewhere in between Mexican and what’s around me — American society,” says Castillo, who claims he’s “100 percent Mexican” but was born in the US. “‘Big World’ was my nickname growing up — I liked to eat a lot, and was chubby.”
Two to three times a week — Castillo can’t always predict which days — Big World’s wedges itself in between bigger competitors like Bop Bar and Tamale Spaceship, where it dishes up five kinds of torta sandwiches. His number-one seller is the $9 steak sandwich, which smothers steak, sautéed onions, and tomatoes in between fresh bolillo bread from Nuevo Leon bakery in Pilsen.
Castillo admits it’s a “little messy,” but that sandwiches on Mexican-style French bread are a fun departure from typical desk-to-Pedway fare.
“I’ve never been an office guy, but I can imagine being stuck in the office,” he says. “Here, you aren’t going to get the same thing everyone’s used to. There’s always something new opening up.”
To Castillo and the city’s 54 other licensed food truck vendors, Columbus Drive represents new daytime opportunities — and challenges.
“The Aon Center isn’t a super developed truck stop yet,” says Castillo. “We want to start going there more often and building a customer base.”
“A lot of the businesses don’t know that the food trucks are down here,” added Deanna Liberty, manager of The Cajun Connoisseur, as she glanced upwards toward the Aon building at the end of a recent lunch hour.
According to CDOT spokesperson Susan Hofer, the city will put increasing pressure on the Loop’s major food truck zone to move elsewhere this fall, which could mean even brighter possibilities for local truckavores.
“A large dining space containing more than a dozen restaurant options opened on the west side of the block,” she said, referring to the 100 block of S. Clark. “We are working with the City Council to introduce an ordinance this fall to relocate the zone.”
— Tricia Parker, Community Contributor