I’ve met all kinds of people in my decade-plus chasing good eats across this region: good ones, bad ones, tall ones, short ones, and anything you can imagine in between. Around every corner is a character, especially in Old Town Bluffton, where they enjoy their quirk with a shot of bourbon, maybe a chardonnay. We must maintain appearances, you know. Or do we? I frankly don’t think anyone cares.
Down the road a bit, you find James Soules (French pronounce please: Soo-lay). “Jimmy,” as he is known around these parts, is one of those characters—card carrying, in fact. Chef, owner, and serial entrepreneur, Jimmy could probably read you Gone with the Wind in about an hour-15.
I met Jimmy once upon a moon when he was head chef running the show at The Bluffton Room. He opened the place. After a break in Puerto Rico where he was running a spot on the beach, he came back to tiny Old Town to open Agave in the Promenade.
That was all long ago. These days, you’ll find Jimmy inside that burrito shop you’ve likely driven by a million times but never got up the courage to stop for. It’s called Underground Burrito and it sits in the heart of Old Town Bluffton on May River Road, in the space formerly occupied by Twisted Bakery.
Once you do stop by, you will find a guy as passionate about what he’s doing with his restaurant as anyone around, but it is not exactly what you’d think. Yes, of course, the end game here is to sell as many burritos as he can, but it’s who he is selling to that makes this venture a little different.
“We are rolling hundreds of burritos almost every other day. Dozens for Palmetto Bluff,” he is quick to share. “The other day, we had a group of nine come in while we had boxes everywhere. It made for a crazy lunch hour.”
Which made me wonder why there wasn’t a separate line for wholesale and delivery burritos than there is for regular day-to-day customers. That got me a bit of an explanation.
Yes, of course, they want to make those day-to-day customers happy, but the big picture vision here is the vending machine, one of which is on display and in use right out front of his May River Road shop. And, yes, it is open 24 hours a day.
“We see it all the time on surveillance video,” Jimmy said. “We know who the regulars are and even the police.”
What they are seeing is people who walk up to the cooler at night, swipe a credit or debit card, and dial up a burrito. Instructions are clear on the label. You pop it in the microwave oven that’s sitting right next to it for 40-60 seconds, and boom—a quick snack. All the microwave does is heat up an otherwise fresh-never-ever-frozen-burrito, which, Jimmy believes makes all the difference in the world.
“We roll these in the machine pretty much every day, and they are gone overnight, especially the pork.” Jimmy said.
Especially on the weekends, late at night is my guess—for those that know where the secret stash is, of course.
As you might imagine, this Burrito vending machine comes with rules—Department of Agriculture, et al. No dairy (sour cream) or guacamole can be put in the burritos that are refrigerated. Them’s the rules. There are others, but those get the most attention.
It’s why Jimmy doesn’t offer guac with his burritos, tacos or quesadillas. He will be happy to make you some, but that side order is going to run you about $9 right now.
“We’ve had people get upset,” he tells me. “And we have to explain this isn’t a build-your-own burrito joint.”
What this also isn’t is an authentic, straight out of Oaxaca taco stand. There are plenty of places for that in the area (like La Poblanita!). These are gringo tacos and burritos—my word, but his description. And based on how many of you love Chipotle and Moe’s, you shouldn’t have a problem with that. Don’t get me started.
The long-term goal here is to have these vending machines positioned all over town with daily rolled burritos. Outside of the home improvement stores, maybe an airport, maybe on boat docks. If you frequent some of the breweries in the area, you’ve probably already been eating and liking them. As I’ve mentioned already a few times, they are plenty popular all over Bluffton and Hilton Head Island.
In the short term, you are more than welcome to stop by their mothership for a taste, made to order of course. Or sneak up on that vending machine out front after hours.
If Jimmy has his way, you will see those everywhere sooner rather than later. Then he will tell you about that venture he’s working on at the golf course.