When Hutto resident Chris Auditore lost his job as a restaurant consultant during the pandemic, finding new work elsewhere was not an option.

"We've been here for 20 years, raised our kids here. ... Hutto is home to us," said Gina Auditore, his wife.

Instead, the pair called on their community to help them open a restaurant of their own, Happy Panini, which sells Italian-style, hot-pressed sandwiches out of a food truck.

What's on the menu

Gina Auditore said the menu was designed to offer a healthier alternative to regular food truck meals, taking no shortcuts when it comes to sourcing quality cheeses, breads and meats—which are all nitrate-free and hand-sliced each morning.

Their signature hot-pressed sandwiches, called paninis, include customer favorites, such as the Hello Sunshine with smoked ham, turkey, provolone, asiago cheese, garlic parmesan mayo and veggies; or the Carmine, a spinoff of the traditional Italian Grinder sandwich with roasted banana peppers, red peppers, red wine vinegar red, Italian meats and cheeses.

Most of the paninis can be turned into wraps, bowls or "chaffles," a gluten-free cheese waffle alternative to bread.

As a treat, every order comes with a free lollipop, Gina Auditore said.

"Even adults love the little surprise. ... It's just our little way of sending a smile with each lunch," Gina Auditore said.

The impact

Gina Auditore said they couldn't have started the restaurant without the support of their friends, neighbors and the wider Hutto community, which raised thousands of dollars through a GoFundMe campaign.

"This is a community-driven business. ... Everything we do has the support of our family and our community behind it, from the recipes, down to the names of the sandwiches; they helped choose all of it," Gina Auditore said.

Since opening in 2020, the Auditores have partnered with a variety of city groups to cater for events, including Hutto ISD and Hutto YMCA, where Gina Auditore works part time.

While the truck is mostly stationary at its Main Street location, they have used the space to host a Kidpreneur Market, which highlights young entrepreneurs and allows them to share their products with the community.

Gina Auditore said more markets are planned for the coming months.

The future

With Chris Auditore's background in advising restaurant franchises, Gina Auditore said they are looking at possibly scaling Happy Panini to be a larger food truck brand in the future.

More immediately, the pair is looking into securing a brick-and-mortar location, ideally in Hutto.