Note: It's time for another edition of Street Food Profiles. This week we meet a banh mi truck.
Name: Nom Nom Truck
Vendor: David Stankunas
Location and hours: All over Los Angeles for lunch, evening, and late-night. Primarily we've been heading out to west Los Angeles, but we still get to places like Hollywood, mid-Wilshire, Koreatown, Silver Lake and Torrance.
What's on the menu? Banh mi, Vietnamese-inspired tacos (basically a banh mi in a corn tortilla instead of bread), and various other Vietnamese snacks and drinks.
How long have you been street fooding? For about 5 weeks.
How has Twitter affected business? Twitter is a huge part of our business. Not only is it a great way to announce exactly where we'll be headed, if we're getting there early, and why we're late, but it's also a great way to receive feedback from customers. We've received hundreds of tweets and direct messages from people detailing their Nom Nom experience.
Also, we can share our own thoughts directly with customers, asking for their opinions on menu items or locations we should try to visit. Twitter has been an incredibly useful customer service tool. It allows us to keep our finger directly on the pulse of our customers. I don't know where we'd be without it!
Why a mobile business over brick-and-mortar? The start-up costs are low and the turnaround time to get a mobile food truck launched is much faster. Also, it's just fun!
Who are your typical customers? During lunch, we usually hit up larger office buildings, so we'll see the typical office worker pretty often. During the evenings, we get a younger crowd. We also probably get a slightly higher percentage of Asian-Americans since it's Vietnamese food. But to be honest, we get such a wide variety of people, young and old, from all different backgrounds.
Describe a typical day from start to finish.
- Wake up at 6 a.m. and check emails and messages.
- Drive over to San Gabriel Valley to pick up freshly baked baguettes and any other food supplies we may need.
- Arrive at the truck lot around 9 a.m. to meet up with another employee and begin prepping food, stocking the truck with drinks, trays, and napkins.
- Leave the lot by 11 a.m. and drive to location. Run lunch service there until about 3 p.m.
- Drive back to lot, clean truck and prep necessary items for evening shift. At this point someone else usually takes over the evening shift, but if we're short on people, I would stick around and get ready to take the truck out again.
- Prep more food, buy more supplies as needed. Leave the lot around 5 or 6 p.m. and drive to evening location.
- Run evening service until about 10 or 11 p.m., then drive back to lot and straighten up, get truck ready for cleaning service later that night or early the next morning. On occasions where we run a late-night shift, we would do something similar to above but just keep the truck out until about 2 a.m. instead of turning in at 11 p.m.
- Throughout the day, we also do our best to answer emails, take calls, order more food from our suppliers, set up schedules, find new locations, and set up catering events. Fortunately, we have three partners that all share the workload.
What are/were you doing before this? Prior to starting Nom Nom Truck, I was running two other small businesses (Beard Head and Poker Bling). In fact, I still am running those two businesses, just not as well now that Nom Nom Truck has been taking up so much time.
Before that, I was a corporate consultant for a few years after graduating from college. I don't have any background in the food industry, nor do either of my partners. Lack of relevant experience has definitely made starting this business more difficult, but I think it also allows us to look at everything from a very fresh point of view. At least, that's what I keep telling myself.
What makes your food so special? Can anything like it be found in the city? One of the main reasons why we chose to do a banh mi truck is that banh mi are very hard to come by in Los Angeles. Yes, you can go to Westminster of San Gabriel Valley, but they are quite a far drive, especially for people all the way in west Los Angeles. We wanted to bring great banh mi to areas where there may not be many Vietnamese restaurants or sandwich shops on every corner.
How would you define "street food"? Street food is easily eaten while standing or walking. If you need a plate or utensils, I would hesitate to call it street food. Aside from that, I say anything goes. With the introduction of all these new food trucks with such a wide variety of cuisine, I think the definition of street food has definitely been expanded from the traditional "quick and greasy" tag.
The best street food city and why. I couldn't really say with any authority. I've eaten at nearly every truck here in Los Angeles, and I gotta say they were all really great. I haven't had a chance to fully sample the street food in New York, San Francisco, Portland, or Seattle yet, but I hear those cities all have a strong street food culture.
I ate a lot of street food in Saigon while I was visiting Vietnam a few summers back. It's a whole different ball game over there though—you can get "street food" from someone cooking noodles in a 30-year old pot over a tiny flame on the sidewalk, then served to you in a plastic baggy with some fresh herbs and fish sauce. Crazy!
Your comfort food after a long day? I usually heat up some leftover grilled pork and pour it over a big bowl of rice. Meat and rice, can't go wrong with that.
Advice for an aspiring vendor? Ask one of your favorite trucks if you can work on their truck for a week or two before deciding to start your own. Actually getting in there making the food, working the hours, dealing with customers, the rush, everything. I think it would be very eye opening.