Find the best food at the Arizona State Fair at Chubs | Phoenix New Times

Meet the Arizona woman behind the State Fair's best food truck

Forget overpriced and underwhelming carnival snacks. Chubs takes fair food to a new level.
Emily Machelor operates and manages four fair stands as well as running Chubs.
Emily Machelor operates and manages four fair stands as well as running Chubs. Allison Young
Share this:
Chef and food truck owner Emily Machelor’s brain never turns off.

“I was looking up Poison Apple Funnel Cake Bites last night at midnight,” says the 30-year-old co-owner of Chubs, a Casa Grande-based food truck that does the fair circuit.

Before funnel cake bites, Machelor was brainstorming ways to add something pumpkin flavored to Chubs, which is currently slinging tacos and churros at the Arizona State Fair. In minutes, she cycled through deep-fried pumpkin pie, pumpkin whipped cream, pumpkin puree on top of regular whipped cream and churros with pumpkin ice cream.

Machelor is no stranger to food. She grew up in her parents’ restaurant in Casa Grande. The family runs Creative Café, a nonprofit that employs mentally and physically challenged adults.

“I’ve been in there since I could see over the counter,” Machelor says, who shares both her father’s love of food and her mother’s altruistic side.

“When I was young, the chefs would always say I’d mess with their recipes and put my own tweak on it,” Machelor says.
click to enlarge
Everything on Chubs’ menu is $15 or less, including the Birria Quesadilla.
Allison Young
Machelor skipped culinary school and instead attended Arizona State University where she majored in business management and minored in tourism.

“I toured California Culinary Arts Institute and remembered how at 9 years old I was running a double omelet station and selfishly decided I’d already absorbed so much in my parents’ restaurant that I thought I knew it all,” Machelor says, laughing. “I knew I loved food, but I’m also an entrepreneur at heart.”

But Machelor’s college plan took a detour when a mutual friend introduced her to Jody Lopez, a self-described “third-generation carny” who owns four fair concession stands: Corn Junction, Big Dogs, Dutchmen’s Funnel Cake and Dutchmen’s Funnel Cake 2.

Lopez not only hired Machelor to operate and manage the four fair stands, but she also gave her some invaluable advice.

“The most important lesson I could teach Emily was how to be flexible,” Lopez says. “When you’re out here working the carnival circuit, you’re on everybody else’s time but your own."

Machelor in turn threw herself into carnival life, learning all aspects of the traveling food biz, from creating eye-catching fair food to hiring the right seasonal workers.

“I was supposed to travel for one year for experience in both my major and minor, and here I am 12 years later,” Machelor says.

Chubs came about in 2019 when Lopez and Machelor found a great deal on a trailer and decided to go into business together.

“We thought, why don’t we just get it and Emily can do whatever she wants with it in the winter to keep herself busy,” Lopez says.
click to enlarge
Chubs’ Crazy Kool-Aid explodes with candy.
Allison Young

Despite opening shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, Chubs has kept Machelor busy. The red-wrapped food truck quickly made a name for itself in Casa Grande and was soon traveling to events like Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming and to Wickenburg to feed singer Lee Greenwood and his band.

“With 75 percent of the restaurants shut down in town [due to the pandemic], we had the upper hand to develop a customer base and relations locally,” Machelor says.

Chubs’ ever-changing menu also keeps Machelor on her toes.

“I get bored, so whatever I can do to have fun, I know I can put on the menu and I know Casa Grande trusts me,” Machelor says. “You want a burger truck, we’ll pull up and be a burger truck. You want a taco truck, we’ll be a taco truck. It makes our life harder, but it makes booking us easier.”

Machelor’s personality is infused in all aspects of Chubs. There’s her cheeky side, which is written all over the truck, literally, with fun food doodles and laugh-out-loud catchphrases including “If you wanna impress me with your car it better be a food truck." And then there’s her headstrong side, which pushes her recipes into new territory.

“One of my friends saw me playing with my birria recipe one day and said, 'Oh my gosh, I told you not to put carrots in it, it would make it too sweet.' But that’s exactly why I did it,” Machelor says. “Some of those things I’ve been told not to do have been a huge success.”

That includes her birria. The flavor-infused meat, which is cooked overnight with 15 secret ingredients – including carrots – is currently used in tacos, quesadillas, French fries and even egg rolls at the Arizona State Fair. Ditto for her Smash Burger, a two-patty cheesy behemoth made from never-frozen ground beef plus grilled onions and pickles on a billowy brioche bun.
click to enlarge
The birria in a number of Chubs' menu items including the tacos is a secret recipe only Machelor knows.
Allison Young
Chubs’ menu may change, but Machelor’s focus on flavor and presentation is unwavering.

"Because I’ve been trained under Jody who’s in the fair business, [I know that] we have one shot to get you, so food better look and taste great,” Machelor says. Case in point: Chubs’ Crazy Kool-Aid is a tall drink of fun that’s rimmed with spicy tajin and brimming with colorful candies.

Chubs also scores points for speed and service. Not only does Machelor and her team get food out drive-thru fast, but when Chubs is out on the street in Casa Grande, you can pre-order and they’ll hand deliver it right to your vehicle.

“You’ll very rarely see food trucks running orders to the cars to make it convenient for the customer,” Machelor says. She purchased Chubs Wild Thing, a second Chubs trailer that’s permanently based in Casa Grande, in 2021.

“My happy place is making people happy,” Machelor says, explaining that her ultimate goal is to help those most in need, something ingrained in her from an early age watching her parents operate their nonprofit.

 “I’ve always wanted to help the homeless and addicts, whether that’s feeding them or housing them. When I’m ready to retire, that’s where I’d like to put my time,” she says.

Until then, Machelor’s on-the-go mind is busy dreaming up what’s next.

“I’ve always had an interest in a brick and mortar of my own, and a bar, and believe it or not, a drive-thru convenience store where you drive right into the place,” she says.

Wherever her food truck takes her, consider us along for the ride.

Chubs at the Arizona State Fair

Arizona State Fairgrounds
1826 W. McDowell Road
Sept. 22 to Oct. 29 (Thursdays through Sundays)
Can you help us continue to share our stories? Since the beginning, Phoenix New Times has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix — and we'd like to keep it that way. Our members allow us to continue offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food, and culture with no paywalls.