Roy Choi and the Taco Truck That Spawned an Empire

Kogi didn’t take off overnight. After Choi’s friend and Kogi partner (eight people run the company) Mark Manguera came up with the idea of mashing up Korean BBQ and Mexican tacos, the Kogi truck began heaving through the streets of L.A. It was slow going at first, more a curiosity than anything else. But then one night in December of 2008, the truck pulled up outside the UCLA dorms during finals.

“We were out on the streets,” Choi says. “Alice (Shin) was in Brooklyn doing her thing. She’s a member of Kogi. She did our blogs. She was running our Twitter at the time. She still is. The rest of us were out here. We only had one smartphone at the time, so we were sharing that. And we were just driving from spot to spot. We didn’t know anyone was listening to us out there; we were just posting stuff on Twitter. We were going to K-Town, Hollywood. We were going to the clubs, going to the colleges. Slowly, little by little, things started to build.

“Then in December, it all just burst after UCLA. We went up to the dorms, and all the kids came out. That’s when Twitter was just becoming popular. It was at night. They were studying. We went to the co-op housing where they were all studying, it was finals. Everyone was around. Word got out, I think there were fliers all over campus about this mysterious taco truck that served Korean barbecue for $2 and it’s coming here. There were a thousand kids out there. It kind of created this kind of urban myth and groundswell. Then we started going out to Rosemead and Venice. That was the turning point.”

Nicole LaPorte, writing about chef Roy Choi for Fast Company. Choi’s LA-based food empire now includes restaurants (Chego, A-Frame), a cookbook/memoir (L.A. Son) and a hotel (The Line).

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