It’s been eight years since Kogi hit the roads and changed the game in LA, and food-truck culture here has gone from being a hot trend to passe to… ??? To get the answers to those question marks, we hit up the founder of Roaming Hunger — THE go-to app for food truck everything — to walk us through the history of where LA food trucks have been and where they’re going… which he thinks is essentially the history of a long term relationship. How? Keep reading:
It was 2008 — the beginning of a new era, where ‘tweeting’ became a reference to people talking in short rants online, rather than just the short rants of birds. Having just launched Korean-Mexican fusion truck Kogi BBQ in Los Angeles, then-unknown chef Roy Choi and team took the bul-gogi by the horns and saw an opportunity to leverage this new form of communication to let people know where the Kogi truck was going to be serving: posting multiple times per day, even per hour about their location and specials.
The novelty and popularity of Kogi stemmed from the cuisine — at that point, putting traditional Korean flavors like short ribs inside tacos or kimchi inside quesadillas was unheard of. In no time, Choi’s fusion concept developed a cult following among LA foodies. Angelenos were dying to find out where the now-famous food truck would be parked next. People began following Kogi’s Twitter account because it was the only way to find out where to eat the food. Even though loncheros had been feeding hungry Angelenos for years (and years) (and years) Kogi BBQ and Twitter finally catapulted food trucks into the limelight, much like the Ed Sullivan Show did for The Beatles’ US debut. The mobile vending technology wasn’t new, but the Internet technology was — and that’s how the food truck craze took off.
Let’s rewind a bit: food truck concepts were by no means new at this point. Long before Roy Choi’s team hit the streets of Los Angeles, chefs were utilizing mobile infrastructure to feed hungry customers (and we’re not even talking taco trucks — think way, way, way back to chuck wagons).
The process makes sense in terms of opportunities for sales — put the kitchen on wheels and head to where the people are already hanging out.
Apparently, though, Los Angeles was where the people were. The city has had a long-standing relationship with food trucks, partly in thanks to the local entertainment industry’s demand for on-site catering. By bringing the food to the cast and crew directly, food trucks eliminated the need to interrupt movie and TV shoot schedules for meal breaks. Food trucks have filled the craft services niche ever since. And construction crews with little to no time for lunch preferred mobile food vendors as well. That’s a big range of people — and when all kinds of Angelenos, from construction workers to movie producers, were taking advantage of the food trucks for their time-saving affordances, that meant high-quality food trucks were hitting the streets long before anyone thought to slap colorful vinyl graphics on them. The idea behind fast, cheap, and delicious street food was not new in any sense — it had just begun to evolve.
included some of LA’s best food: trucks like the beloved, seafood-centric Mariscos Jalisco, has been serving their crispy shrimp tacos to the masses for well over ten years. El Chato and Taco Zone were cult classics for the LA late night crowd — catering to partygoers and those just getting off of work simultaneously. Before any truck called Abbot Kinney home, La Isla Bonita handled taco business for west-siders looking for tacos and ceviche. Los Angeles was no stranger to hordes of authentic, delicious, and cheap options from food trucks. These trucks were popular with local communities — and still very much are. But they were popular offline.
So what changed? The Kogi truck and other trailblazers bridged the gap between function and form by utilizing social media to engage an entirely new audience and foster a community that would embrace this gourmet four-wheeled food culture and a whole new idea of what types of foods you could find on a food truck in LA.