Off the road and on the bus: Panini Machini keeps Chico farm-fresh


Shae Pastrana

Panini Machini

Behind a funny name lies the work of a local who brings inspiration back home from his travels. With a menu built on Butte County’s dollars, Panini Machini surfaced with a farm-to-sandwich concept in a pandemic-affected economy.

“I drive it around, and people give me this weird look, like they’re mad at me or something,” owner and Chico-native Joel Matzinger said, chuckling. “And then I read their mouth as they say ‘Panini Machini,’ and then they laugh.”
Now set up at Secret Trail Brewery, the food truck opened in September 2020. They serve locally sourced sandwiches with ingredients like meat from the Chico State Meats Lab on the University Farm, cheese from Sierra Nevada Cheese Company’s creamery in Willows and heirloom tiger tomatoes from Ord Ferry Farms.

Sandwich with a twist. Photo by Joel Matzinger.

“These are a twist on classic sandwiches,” Matzinger said. 

Matzinger said he’s excited to work with the tiger tomatoes, which are known for their bi-colored and ornamental display. He added that he wants people to have a similar intoxicating experience with food.

Matzinger’s culinary influence comes from his travel experiences, like the time in New Orleans when he tried sandwich melts with collards that blew his mind. His favorite food on the road was sweet and spicy pickles, a popular item on his menu. He traveled all over the country through his work in the live music industry.

Porkini assembly with sweet and spicy pickles in progress. Photo by Joel Matzinger.

Having never worked in a kitchen before, Matzinger was on the guest side of catering for 15 years as a tour manager and audio engineer for bands like Jamestown Revival and Shovels and Rope. He worked at the Senator Theatre and El Rey Theater.

Panini Machini’s name came from a merchandising crew member’s friendly jest of Matzinger’s bus meals.  It was conceived while cooking for after-parties on the tour bus for Shovels and Rope. He improvised with a George Foreman grill and Crock Pot, serving meals to people after shows.

“There was a lot of stuff left over, so I would put it on the bus,” Matzinger said. 

Now renovated with hardwood flooring and paneling, the food truck began as a short and inoperable school bus towed by Matzinger from Houston to Austin in 2017. After the motor blew up, he packed all his belongings and moved back to Chico with his child.

Veggie Pesto. Photo by Joel Matzinger.

The food truck’s menu highlights Matzinger’s work with local farmers. He was in Future Farmers of America and raised pigs for the fair while in high school. His mother, who was in farming, fostered his upbringing in agriculture.

“I’ve been in [agriculture] for quite a while in this community,” Matzinger said. 

He expressed concerns for the future of food. “I really like the idea of ‘think globally, act locally,’” he said, followed by his criticism of the reliance on factory farming. He mentioned rumors of meat shortages that spread last year because of the pandemic-influenced economy.

Porkini. Photo by Joel Matzinger.

An article from Chico State’s Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems explained that the supply chain was the true culprit, not the quantity of product. COVID-19 interrupted supply and distribution by its impact on workers.

Agricultural and natural resource economist Dr. Jacob Brimlow, who teaches in the agricultural business program, studies barriers to local food sales on both sides — buyers and growers.

“The supply chain was just not ready to adjust that quickly,” Brimlow said, referring to when institutional buyers closed down last year. “For me what that highlights, of course, is how consolidated those [meat processing] facilities are in our country. The question might just be: Should we be doing something about that or was COVID such a big deal?”

Matzinger is committed to supporting the local economy as much as possible through his business, and wants more restaurants involved at the Chico Certified Farmers Market — where he buys produce.

Service window next to menu. Photo by Shae Pastrana

“I want to bring everybody together,” Matzinger  said. “I think community is everything.” He wants his business model to be based on “keeping your dollar in the community.” 

Matzinger works toward making the business 100% locally sourced. Panini Machini collaborates with the community. In the past, they did cocktail-and-panini pairings with The Maltese and served at Greenhouse Studio and Gallery for their Summer Art Fair.

Panini Machini is open at Secret Trail Brewing Company on Mondays and Tuesdays from 4-8 p.m. and every other Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.

Shae Pastrana can be reached at [email protected] and @Pineyfolk on Twitter.