Published Jan 1, 2010 8:00 AM
They're on a mission to feed the city, weaving in and out of traffic in a giant, neon-colored truck, bringing their innovative Vietnamese cuisine to the masses. The Nom Nom Truck is one of the newest members in a growing convoy of Los Angeles-area food trucks, and this one was created by three recent Bruin grads who craved a business adventure — and their favorite Vietnamese sandwich, the banh mi.
David Stankunas '03, Misa Chien '04 and Jennifer Green '06 all met as undergrads at UCLA's Hapa Club. ("Hapa" is a term used to describe an individual of mixed Asian-Caucasian heritage.) Green and Stankunas, both half-Vietnamese, used to drive all the way to Orange County whenever they were craving banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich served on a baguette, usually with cucumbers, meat, pickled carrots and cilantro. They decided to start a mobile food truck last summer to bring this dish a little closer to home, and Stankunas recruited Chien to help them out.
Mobile food trucks are rising in numbers all across L.A. Nom Nom Truck's creators were inspired in part by Kogi, the successful Korean BBQ truck. Other food trucks that have businessmen and women streaming out of their office buildings around lunchtime include Baby's Badass Burgers and Fishlips Sushi To Go & Catering.
After tinkering with recipes, trying to find the perfect combination of traditional Vietnamese fare and something fresh and funky, our intrepid trio mapped out a business plan, bought the truck and hit the road.
Menu items include BBQ Pork Banh Mi or Lemongrass Chicken Vietnamese Tacos. Green, the culinary expert, worked with her mom to perfect the recipes and is still trying out new items, like spring rolls.
Nom Nom Truck has a website (www.nomnomtruck.com), a Facebook page and a Twitter account that hungry fans can check to see where the truck will be located every day. Sometimes the location changes based on the weather or parking availability, so they are continually updating their schedule.
"It's really hard work," says Green. "There are so many challenges, but we have come so far. We have all really grown together."
Indeed, there's a lot to tackle, including driving their monstrous truck while exploring unknown areas of the city, buying fresh bread in San Gabriel every day for the sandwiches, and managing a kitchen on wheels. The learning curve is steep, says Stankunas, but positive feedback — "We get really nice tweets and the messages are huge" — keeps him going.
The three also enjoy the uncertainty of a business like Nom Nom Truck. "There is so much freedom that comes with working for the truck," says Chien. "We never know what's going to happen."
Chien, Stankunas and Green aren't sitting still. They already offer catering and are mulling franchising opportunities as well as additional Nom Nom Trucks or even — what a concept — an actual restaurant.