THROUGH THE FIRE: World of Mobility: From iPad to iFood

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By JOEY T. FURUTANI
(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on Oct. 20, 2011.)

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Our society seems to always be on the move. Americans are constantly on the go and they want their life’s necessities with them at all times. Drive-through Starbucks. Paying an overdue electricity bill on your iPad while waiting for your triple-shot Americano. Arming the home security system you forgot about while rushing out of the house using an iPhone app.

Mobility has become such a powerful entity that even governments have passed laws to limit its undeniable power.

One industry that has embraced this power to transform its unflattering history into a sexy and trendy culture is the food truck. There used to be a time when food trucks had no choice but to go straight to their customers for survival. Camped outside of construction sites and large centers of business traffic, the once unappealing “roach coach” has metamorphosized into a unique, diverse, and beautiful culinary (mobile) institution.

The tables (and demand) have turned as customers seek out their favorite or newest food truck, traveling great distances and waiting in long lines.

Roy Choi, a pioneer of the food truck movement, not only introduced us to a unique form of fusion cuisine but simultaneously revolutionized mobile eateries, a new food culture that has seen an explosion of culinary creativity. Roy’s fleet of Kogi Trucks has led the way for this movement that is highlighted by a diverse universe of themes and cuisines.

Today, you can find just about any type of food served by a food truck, from dim sum, crepes, and barbecue to cupcakes, tandoori chicken, and sushi. Their creativity doesn’t stop there, as you cannot find two food trucks that look alike. The color schemes and designs on these food trucks are a huge part of their marketing strategies as the bright colors and cool names attract customers on the street.

The revolutionary aspect of this movement is epitomized by the use of social media. Food trucks have utilized social media platforms to advertise and inform customers of their whereabouts and products. With a cost-conscious business model, social media offer free advertising and a timely mechanism to keep in touch with customers. Twitter has become THE social media tool used by food trucks as it allows them to update followers about their current location, serving times, and items they’ve run out of that day.

When I refer to “iFood,” I am not necessarily speaking only in a digital sense in the form of social media, but also in a geographic and mobility sense where there are no boundaries and one is not restricted to a storefront and set in a single community.

Roy Choi’s mobile business venture started with one truck in 2008 and has now grown to include two recently opened restaurants, A-Frame in Culver City and Chego in the Palms neighborhood of West Los Angeles. Joe Kim intentionally used the food truck concept to generate a fan base of loyal customers before opening Flying Pig, his restaurant located in Little Tokyo that is home to a pork-focused menu.

With high startup costs and the risk associated with opening a restaurant, many have followed the same path as the Flying Pig, including the White Rabbit (Filipino) and Frysmith (French fries), who now own storefront restaurants.

A lesson that can be learned from this movement is the influence of mobility. These new food trucks are capable of covering large areas to generate support across our largest counties.

I am a huge fan of Thai food. My friend’s aunt owns a Thai restaurant in Eagle Rock. In my opinion, Thai Eagle Rox is the home of the best pad thai and green papaya salad outside of Thailand. Yes, this is a very bold statement, but I’ve tried my fair share of Thai restaurants and no one seems to get it right like they do. There is one problem: the restaurant is a 25-mile, traffic-ridden drive from home.  I would like to share this culinary experience with other Thai food enthusiasts but the trek out to Eagle Rock is usually daunting to others.

Solution: a food truck. I have yet to witness a Thai food truck on the streets of Southern California. Their signature dish will be “iPad Thai,” a play on the mobile food theme. I’m already thinking of asking for a 10-percent stake in the company.

The other week, I was newly introduced to the existence of the Lobsta Truck. Like many other food trucks, I visited their website to take a look at their menu and find out where they’ll be throughout the week. It was decided. Wednesday would be the day that I would try a lobster roll made from fresh ingredients shipped all the way from Maine.  Would a $12 sandwich that won’t make me anywhere close to being full be worth the drive from Gardena to Anaheim? Yes.

Wednesday finally came, along with an unexpected rainstorm. I anxiously awaited Twitter updates on the Lobsta Truck’s scheduled dinner service. At 4:05 p.m., the Lobsta Truck tweeted, “Dinner CANCELLED.” Although temporarily heartbroken, I knew I would get my chance to try a lobster roll in the very near future as my pursuit of the New England treat continues… (on Twitter).

I’ve tried numerous food trucks over the years. I’ve been pleasantly surprised and incredibly disappointed at times. But one thing that I will miss from an original food truck is a traditional grilled cheese sandwich. This greasy wedge of heaven absorbed all of the day’s flavors off the grill, from the bacon breakfast burritos to the beef patties for burgers. This dynamic flavor profile goes unmatched by any of the hip food truck grills that are cleaned oh too well, eliminating the essence that takes you back to the ancestors of these rolling artworks.

Keeping the food truck’s roots in mind, it will be worth your time to take part in this movement. With so many choices, here are a few tips to get you started:

– Find food trucks on Twitter

– Seek out food trucks that serve near your work or home

– If you can’t decide, go to a food truck meet so you have a variety to choose from

– Ask friends

– Enjoy!

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Joey T. Furutani works in the field of strategic communications and is a graduate of UCLA. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

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