Food trucks and food carts are the gateway drug of the restaurant world. Their menus are designed to be laser focused and brash. We visit because we want something that surprises us and we want it fast. If it’s good, we’ll go back over and over. If not, there’s always another truck around the block. There’s no loyalty in this game.
A good mobile eatery can be an attention-grabbing revelation. And if that revelation is seasoned with a good dose of media savvy and drive, it can lead to a culinary empire. Celebrity chef Ludo Lefebvre put it this way, “You have the truck to ‘master’ a concept and build a loyal clientele. Being patient will pay off in the long run.” For the chefs and entrepreneurs below, that patience and hard work paid off.
Taking that ethos to heart, we scoured some of our favorite food trucks and carts from around the country and found the ones that grew into something bigger. These mobile food concepts became mini culinary empires, beloved from coast to coast. If getting into the culinary scene, let these stories of success serve as a roadmap to taking that plunge. If you just love good food, then enjoy some great food porn. Either way, let’s dive in.
KOGI KOREAN BBQ– Mark Manguera, Caroline Shin, and Roy Choi
Kogi started off with a simple idea — blend Korean BBQ with pan-Mexican foodways and add in a big dollop of social media savvy. Kogi’s Kimchi Quesadillas and Short Rib sliders are the street foods of legends. Within two years of its launch, Kogi had five trucks spread across the LA sprawl and their social media presence was lauded by food critics and lusted after by newbies entering the scene.
In 2010, Kogi’s collaborators opened up two brick and mortar spots in LA: Chego and A-Frame. The latter was opened in a retro-fitted IHOP for maximum LA kitsch value. Kogi installed a permanent truck at the Alibi Room in LA in 2011. And last year Kogi Taqueria opened up Palms in LA, giving the food truck its first proper brick and mortar locale. A second location opened shortly thereafter, inside El Segundo’s Whole Foods.
There’s no denying the cultural impact of Kogi on the food scene of Los Angeles and the wider food truck revolution that it spawned across America in the early teens. Then there’s the star Kogi made of LA’s own Roy Choi. Choi went from being a competent hotel chef to being one of the most lauded celebrity chefs of the past decade. He rolled his celebrity and success into several projects that supported his hometown, including the community-driven LocoL.