In my continuing series of interviews with taco truck-related folks, I bring you the latest email interview with Nom Nom, a soon-to-be launched bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwich) truck serving West Los Angeles. The questions were answered via email by David Stankunas (above), one of Nom Nom’s founders.
1) How’d Nom Nom get started?
I came up for the idea for Nom Nom while having lunch with fellow co-founder, Jennifer Green, on a rainy March afternoon. As we were eating, I mentioned I had recently eaten at a popular taco truck, Kogi, the weekend before. At that same moment, Jennifer was reminded that she just happened to bring a few banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) from Westminster for me to take home after lunch.
I’ve always loved banh mi, but since there aren’t any places in West LA that sell them, I usually had to drive a long ways to get one. Everything sorta just came together after that. Excited, I rushed home to do a little research on truck costs, permits, and other “alternative” trucks in Los Angeles. I also quickly shot off an email to the Kogi founders for some advice. Later that day I enlisted the other co-founder, Misa Chien, onto the Nom Nom team, and now, close to 5 months later, we’re on the verge of launching our first truck!
2) Were you guys crazy taco truck fans to begin with? How much did Kogi and/or other non-taco food trucks influence you?
Kogi was an incredible influence on us. In fact, I would go as far as saying they are the main reason we are doing what we are doing today. Not only did Kogi serve as inspiration for starting our Nom Nom Truck, they were also incredibly helpful and supportive when it came to offering advice on how to get started. We’re all big fans of Kogi, their food and their people. What they’ve been able to do in such a short period of time is nothing short of amazing. In my eyes, they are responsible for the whole mobile food “movement” that has become so popular in Los Angeles today. I like to refer to them as the “Godfather” of mobile food trucks.
3) How has your business background influenced you? What was the process of procuring a truck? What’s the hardest thing about starting up a business like this? What most surprised you?
Since graduating from UCLA with a degree in business/economics 6 years ago, I’ve been involved with a pretty wide range of business adventures. I spent a number of years as a corporate consultant, and then about two years ago, I left that job to run my own business full-time. Since then I’ve started two more businesses, and Nom Nom will be the fourth. I’ve always thought of myself as entrepreneurial, so starting up with Nom Nom wasn’t much of a stretch. None of us (Misa, Jenn and I) have any experience in the food industry, so it is a bit scary jumping right into the whole mobile food truck thing, but that’s part of the fun of being an entrepreneur. Misa also has a strong background in entrepreneurship and has owned her own business since she was a sophomore at UCLA. Jenn is quite the Vietnamese foodie, and is the perfect complement to our team.
There are a few avenues you can take to get a mobile food truck. You can rent, lease or buy. Renting obviously is the least risky, but also the most expensive. It is also very difficult to find a place that is renting one at the moment, due to the skyrocketing popularity of mobile food trucks these days. Contracts typically run 3 to 6 months for renting. Leasing or buying takes a larger capital commitment, but the options are much wider. Fortunately, when you rent, lease or buy a truck, it comes pretty much completely built-out (kitchen, appliances, refrigeration, etc…) and up to code as far as health permits go. It’s a pretty turn-key solution!
The hardest part for us so far has been learning the ins-&-outs of the restaurant industry. As I mentioned before, we are coming in with no prior experience, so we’re like fish out of water in many cases. Fortunately, everyone we’ve talked to has been incredibly supportive and answered any and all the questions we’ve had. A lot of the standard business processes that may normally be somewhat intimidating to an aspiring entrepreneur looking to start a new business, such as setting up a corporation, registering with the state and city for various permits, payroll, obtaining business liability insurance, setting up an accounting system, etc…were all things Misa and I have done before, so they weren’t too bad.
The most surprising thing for us so far has been the incredible immediate response we’ve gotten from the public after putting up our Web site. Within days, we received press in some major Los Angeles publications and media outlets, as well as numerous emails from various businesses asking us to come by their offices, chefs looking for a job, professionals offering their services for free, and overall well-wishers just saying “thank you” for bringing Banh Mi to West LA…all before we even got a truck and started serving anything! I remember just wanting to put up a Web site a little early, just for the hell of it, and then all of a sudden we had 300+ Twitter followers, 200+ Facebook fans, and an inbox full of email!
4) Any news on the launch date yet? Why the Westside of LA? (I’m from Santa Monica so I applaud this decision.) Will you have a set route/location?
We’re still looking at late August for a soft launch, and then September to have a more consistent schedule. Since we’re all relatively young, we’d like to hit up the college crowd as much as possible, especially UCLA since we’re all Bruins (no worries, we’ll show USC some love too).
We chose to primarily focus on the Westside of Los Angeles for a few reasons:
- Misa and I both live in Santa Monica and Jenn is in West LA 5 days a week.
- As long as I lived here, there has been an absurd lack of banh mi in the area! I loooooovee banh mi, but aside from one place in Westwood (that has been gone for about 3 years now), there hasn’t been any place to get a decent Vietnamese sandwich unless you felt like driving to San Gabriel Valley or Westminster!
- There’s a pretty decent sized Asian-American population here on the Westside, especially concentrated around UCLA. A lot of UCLA students come from the Bay Area or OrangeCounty, where banh mi are pretty popular. We believe there is a built-in awareness of banh mi in the area that isn’t being properly taken
advantage of. (Not that you need to be Asian or know all about banh mi to know they’re delicious…)
We’re still working out the locations where we can park our truck. We’d love to be around various college campuses, as well as popular night hangout areas, especially on the weekends. As we navigate through the first few months of operations, I think we’ll get a much better idea of where we can and can’t park…or where we should and shouldn’t park, at the very least.
5) Why banh mi? What’s the best thing on the menu? What should non-Vietnamese folks (like me), know about the banh mi?
As I mentioned up above, we’re all huge fans of the sandwich. The bread is similar to a French baguette, but is much more light and airy, yet has a perfect crunchy, flaky crust that I’m certain everyone will fall in love with. The pickled carrots and radish veggies common, to all our banh mi, are sweet and tangy with a little crunch. This provides fabulous texture while giving the sandwich an unmatched sensation of freshness. All of our sandwiches (veggie included!) feature incredibly bold Vietnamese-inspired flavors, to which our special homemade scallion oil and mayo serve as perfect compliments.
It’s tough to say what the best thing on the menu is…to be honest, I think everyone will have their own favorite. I personally love everything and try to mix it up as often as possible. My guess right now is our most popular sandwich will be the BBQ Pork…but you never know!