WATERVILLE — A U.S. military veteran who operated a restaurant in Skowhegan has found new life by closing the restaurant and taking his food on the road, one of many eateries to have found success using a food truck.

Hero’s on Wheels debuted this week at a semi-permanent location in Waterville, at the corner of Johnson Heights and North Street across from North Street Recreation Area. Even in the rain, the husband and wife team who own the business, Derek and Aaron DeFelice, said they had a line around the block after opening Tuesday.

Hero’s on Wheels is one of 668 mobile food businesses in Maine licensed by the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention’s health inspection program, CDC spokeswoman Lindsay Hammes said Thursday. That’s a 27% increase from the number reported in 2021.

“Food trucks are up and coming right now,” Derek DeFelice said Wednesday. “A lot of people I know in the restaurant business have either ordered or are trying to get a food truck right now.”

The business opened in 2018 as Hero’s House of Pizza at 60 Waterville Road in Skowhegan. The restaurant was successful enough that the couple decided to expand in early 2020 and invest in a custom-made trailer to pursue private catering for events. It turned out to be propitious timing when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out only a month later.

While the volume of customers decreased with stringent social-distancing requirements, business swelled for the food truck. The DeFelices decided to close up shop and go fully mobile.


The mobile business model can be more profitable than a traditional restaurant, Derek DeFelice said. Although revenue has decreased, he no longer has to rent out a large commercial space, and operates with a staff of two. Labor shortages, a problem hampering many businesses across the state, were part of the reason the restaurant closed, he said.

Derek DeFelice, co-owner of Hero’s on Wheels, prepares a steak and cheese sub with fries Wednesday near the North Street Recreation Area in Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“We just had a hard time finding help,” he said. “We had to make a change that was best for the business, and that’s what we did. Cut our overhead down, and we’ve been able to survive with just me and her.”

Derek DeFelice nods to his wife who’s busy preparing a made-to-order grilled chicken caesar salad.

The two said the great thing about the food truck is the ability to take their product right to people, which is useful in central Maine where many communities are rural and sparsely populated.

The business serves up traditional all-American cuisine and the truck has patriotic decor, an homage to Derek DeFelice’s background. He served in the Army from 2003 to 2009. Derek DeFelice said many veterans stopped by the trailer this week to get food, and sometimes just to chat about their service. “It’s like being at the VFW,” he said.

Hero’s business model now is “99%” private events and catering, Derek DeFelice said, and they are largely booked out for the next two years supplying events anywhere from Sanford to Caribou. But the Oakland natives hope to make Waterville their semi-permanent home. Hero’s has a six-month permit from the city and given the larger-than-expected turnout this week, the DeFelices hope to be in the city as a “weekly pop-up” through the spring and summer.

Customers can keep up to date with the trailer’s movements on the Hero’s Facebook page.

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