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D’ah, right. Getting a little bit above my pay grade here…

I leave Patrick and Devin and go outside and take a breath of fresh air. Miho’s food line has dropped off. On the menu board a red slash has been chalked through the red curry chicken. “Ran out,” says Juan, the guy who took my order.

“So, how did you get this business rolling?” I ask. “And what’s ‘Miho’ anyway?”

“Kevin Ho and I started out doing a kind of underground business,” he says. “Beer dinners, pairing food and beer. It was me, Juan MI-rón, and Kevin HO. MI-HO. It also sounds like that endearment in Spanish, ‘mi hijo,’ ‘my son.’ It was a creative outlet for us to incorporate things that we’re passionate about: food, music, design, entertaining, and drinks. We’d both been working at the Linkery. That’s where we met. And we went to school in the Bay Area, so we developed an appreciation for farm-to-table food. That’s the philosophy that Miho focuses around. So after doing the beer dinners for a while, and working at the restaurant, we realized we wanted to create something which would sustain our livelihood and feed people with great food that’s locally sourced. We found out about the hot [cooked] food-truck movements in other cities, how it was flourishing in Portland, L.A., New York, so we decided we could do that here in San Diego. We worked on our business plan for about nine months, from August 2009. We launched in May of 2010.

I peek over the counter and look around his kitchen. Even after the earlier frenzy it looks clean, from the metallic shelves to the counters, and it’s spacious for a truck interior. So how much did they have to outlay to launch an operation like this?

“It’s definitely a lower investment than opening up a restaurant,” he says, “less than $100,000. But we don’t like to give out a lot of information because there are a lot more trucks that are coming out right now, over the next three to six months, and we have worked really hard to be where we’re at.”

That amount — let’s guess $80,000 — pales in comparison to what starting a regular eatery would cost. “Opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant, you’d be looking at $200,000, at least,” Juan says. “That’s definitely why a lot of people decide to go [the food-truck] route. But it’s still a lot of work. You deal with more complications. When you’re a normal restaurant and you run out of food, you can send someone to the back and make more food. But here, once we run out, we run out. It’s a mobile kitchen. Things that you experience as you go along the way that we have to go through [make it tough]! Like, if you buy an old truck. This was an old-school lunch truck. Finding parts, keeping it rolling…”

He rolls his eyes. Lunch trucks, he explains, have been around since the 1940s. “The Moody family has been in the business since then. In fact, lunch trucks used to serve white-collar workers, not blue-collar workers as they do now — the ‘roach coaches,’ as they’re known. They go to construction sites, factories. But not back then, before the introduction of fast-food restaurants. That’s when they started shifting [to blue-collar customers].”

So, if fast-food eateries squeezed a fleet like Moody’s out of middle-class business, how can Juan and Kevin succeed?

“Social networking is definitely one of the biggest success factors, besides your traditional marketing. Those are the top two. Out of any food truck in San Diego, we have the most followers on Facebook and Twitter. Our newsletter goes out to over 2000 people. We have more than 2200 followers on Facebook, about 2100 followers on Twitter.”

What about the fact that they’re sourcing local, organic?

“That helps, too. We can do that at a much lower investment, less risk. We own everything, just me and Kevin. Whereas, if you wanted to do a restaurant, more than likely, unless you have a lot of [start-up] money, you have to get investors. So, the goal was something where we could work for ourselves, create our own path. Whereas if you have investors, you have to be following someone else’s [business plan].”

Why is it a nationwide — maybe worldwide — phenomenon?

“Because I think people are looking for more affordable, accessible, unique dining experiences. It’s not necessarily a green thing. Like, there’s no other truck in San Diego that does green sourcing as we do. It’s happening because people want something affordable, accessible, and convenient. And definitely, it does have its trendy factor. Social networking is a big part of it. People love Facebook and Twitter. They like to know who’s eating where.”

∗ ∗ ∗

These gastro-truck guys may be hot, but, man, they can be hard to find. ’Specially if you’re not Twittering regularly. Tonight, Saturday, I’m in North Park, looking for the other famous San Diego food truck, Tabe. Right now I’m in the goth gloom of the Office, the bar on 30th near University. It’s around 10:00 p.m. That’s when I heard the Tabe truck was going to turn up. Tabe’s famous because it was started by the same Korean family that launched Kogi, a Korean-Mex BBQ truck in L.A. that’s based on the simple idea of putting Korean BBQ into tacos. In L.A. it has truly gone viral. Roy Choi, a chef who thought he was going to be stuck doing hotel banquets, has become a star. Over about a year, Kogi Korean Barbecue expanded to four trucks. They were given a Bon Appétit Award in 2009, while Food and Wine magazine named Choi “Best New Chef” for 2010. Kogi boasts more than 50,000 followers on Twitter.

Tabe (short for taberu, which means “to eat” in Japanese) also has food based on Korean-Mex fusion, though its recipes were created by a Japanese chef named Todd Ichinaga. Soon after, the Korean owners pulled out and sold Tabe.

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Comments

Founder April 7, 2011 @ 7:39 a.m.

Great story!

Also I'd add that the Business Improvement Districts (BID's) hate these trucks, since they provide great food at reasonable prices which reduces the number of customers that patronize local, usually far more expensive eateries!

The BID's have even gone to City Hall to get restrictions on where these mobile serving trucks can operate. North Park Main Street (aka NP BID) now has such restrictions in place, which means that locals must travel to South Park or beyond to get GREAT MOBILE food at a great deal!

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BlueSouthPark April 7, 2011 @ 9:40 a.m.

There is a great truck, Mariscos's, that is in the Gala Grocery Store parking lot every day (30th and Grape) in South Park. Marisco's sells fabulous smoked albacore tacos and all sorts of other fish hand-held food...yumm! The prices are very, very low and the quality is amazing.

And you are right, Founder, the constant biz promotion machine known as South Park Business Group (they'd love to be a BID and plan to be one someday) NEVER has even mentioned Marisco's in their promotion websites. It's obvious that independent, low-cost, non-alcohol-vending groups do not fit the BID model.

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Founder April 7, 2011 @ 11:20 a.m.

That is THE place to eat fish taco's...

¸..>·.¸´¯`·.¸¸..>.¸¸..·

Excellent comment about the Commercialization of our Neighborhoods for the betterment of the local Business Districts, despite what is enjoyable by those that live within walking distance...

Protect Gala Foods before the City turns it into a housing Project that will remove the "coolness" from South Parks best kept secret!

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BlueSouthPark April 7, 2011 @ 1:26 p.m.

Man, that's a great fish design, Founder! I hope Gala doesn't get turned into a curb-to-curb infill project. Ordinary residents in South Park do NOT want that, but we don't really have a voice. Looking at the City's website for the GH community plan update, you can see that people who attend the CPU and are City employees, business owners, realtors, builders, and developers keep pushing the idea, by inserting comments like "the Gala property is underutilized." Underutilized??? I use Gala and its convenient parking all the time, and so do hundreds of other people. How do these sharks live with themselves?

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Founder April 8, 2011 @ 8:04 a.m.

These "$HARK$" LIVE FOR MONEY.

THEY ARE PART OF THE GREED FOOD CHAIN that contains:

Architects, Builders, Planners, Realtors + all the City Employees that service them and all the others that donate to get additional access to our Leaders to create even more Density!

BTW: "Underutilized" means that a property is not generating enough tax base for the City, so it should be DENSITIFIED (new word!) creating new revenue at the current tax level. If every property was sold every 5 years, then the City would be able to afford to pay the GIANT pensions to its Leaders and all their supporters...

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Founder April 8, 2011 @ 8:10 a.m.

"LIABILITY" for whom?

Certainly not the folks that own or work inside these mobile modern mecca's of mouthwatering meals...

When local business's become so powerful that "what is good for business" takes precedent over what is good for local residents then they have gone too far!

In many parts of San Diego, they have gone WAY too far already...

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HairPuller April 10, 2011 @ 10:31 a.m.

Great Read. Not being much of a social networker, can you our anyone tell me how to follow these trucks on Tweeter?

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BlueSouthPark April 11, 2011 @ 8:49 a.m.

Example: Just go to twitter.com/mihogastrotruck if you want that particular vendor. You can follow them, they can follow you...assuming you carry around a mobile and need to track food trucks, that's what you do. See their twitter page for details.

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