Social networking behind lunch truck success

October 5, 2009 5:03:24 PM PDT
From the East Bay, to San Francisco, to the Peninsula, it seems everywhere you look there is a sudden explosion in lunch trucks. But these are not your father's lunch trucks. These trucks are serving up innovative cuisine and driving in profits, thanks to social networking.

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Roast duck with mango salsa and grilled chicken with garlic ginger sauce, doesn't sound like your standard taco toppings. But then again, Kung Fu Tacos in San Francisco's Financial District is not your standard food truck.

"We took traditional Chinese flavors, married it with traditional Mexican tacos," said Jonathan Ward of Kung Fu Tacos.

But there's nothing traditional about Kung Fu Tacos' business approach. It's part of a new generation of lunch trucks in the Bay Area serving high-end cuisine in what used to be thought of as the lowest of culinary purveyors.

In San Francisco there is Spencer on the Go, operated by French restaurant Chez Spencer; where you can nosh on escargot, sweetbreads or frog legs and curry. In Emeryville, there's Seoul on Wheels, cooking up tacos with Korean barbeque meat, garnished with daikon and cream.

"It's so awesome, food trucks showing up. Because they're so delicious, they seem like they're exploring new food territory," said customer Kelly Booth.

Bay Area foodies indulging their champagne tastes on a beer budget are gobbling up the entrees almost always priced under $10.

"It's good in a recession. That's for sure," said customer Chris Kilkes.

The recession is one factor in the sudden explosion of food trucks. Many cooks with a dream can't afford to open a restaurant, but can buy a truck for under $20,000. And once they have that truck, they go straight into fast lane of the information super highway. This new wave of food truck operators is using technology to grow their business, using Twitter to spread the word on the promotions, locations and more.

It makes sense given the co-owners of Kung Fu Tacos and the operator of Seoul on Wheels have all worked in high-tech. They send out daily tweets; each has nearly 1,000 followers.

"I might decide to do a special the night before or the day of, so it's a really good way for me to let people know, come get this, it's really tasty," said Seoul on Wheels owner Julia Yoon.

"When I do our night gigs, we tweet about that usually a couple days ahead of time, so people have time to plan," said Ward.

And if you ask customers, many say they're here because of what they read on Yelp, Facebook or Twitter.

"My buddy put it up on Facebook. So I looked it up online and saw it was only five blocks away," said customer Jamie Abenojar.

These haute cuisine trucks are well aware social networking can also destroy them if customers have a negative experience. They say that's why they work hard to keep their trucks clean, their food fresh and just as important, their Twitter accounts active.

"I think I might have been successful, but it might have taken longer. It's like tweet of mouth, instead of word of mouth. It's just faster, it's just instant," said Yoon.

San Francisco's famous upscale Vietnamese restaurant, Slanted Door, is even planning to start a lunch truck. Charles Phan tells the Wall Street Journal, the business would allow customers to observe the food.

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