Kogi BBQ. The First Year. What a Strange, Tasty Trip It's Been.
Kogi & friends (from left to right: Caroline Shin-Manguera, Roy Choi holding Diesel the dog, Eddie Lin, Mark Manguera, Jaleel White and friend).
It seems almost unimaginable, but a mere year ago, there was no food truck craze. Now gourmet food trucks are found curbside everywhere from sea to shining sea, peddling everything from desserts to pizza to mobile French cuisine. There always were (and are) plenty of food trucks but no frenzy, no madness, no amusement park length queues winding down city blocks and definitely no Twitter updates. Yeah, there were many, many regular food trucks, roach coaches and taco trucks but nothing like the Kogi BBQ truck.
Kogi BBQ showed up just about one year ago today and rocked the scene forever. Kogi is a legitimate game changer in that it has altered the food service landscape dramatically not only with its shrewd use of Twitter but also with immediate test marketing of new products, instant communication and feedback with über loyal customers/fanatics who tell it like it is and a company personality that is as "real" and hip as its followers (thanks to Alice Shin, the girl behind the Kogi curtain... don't peek!). Corporations and marketing firms of all stripes would kill for the kind of "market research" gems Kogi gets almost casually.
There's no such thing as an overnight sensation, but if there ever was one, the Kogi BBQ truck just might be it. Getting almost as much press as the occasional Hollywood A-lister or beauty queen who lines up alongside the common people for a taste, Kogi's story is legendary. Covered by every major news outlet from the New York Times to the BBC, it's a foodie fable passed along from generation to generation. A man named Mark Manguera pitches a business idea while partying with his chef friend Roy Choi. The idea: cozy up Korean barbecue-style meat inside a tortilla and sell the fusion tacos out of a truck. Chef Choi sees potential in it. Choi, Manguera and Caroline Shin-Manguera (Mark's wife) team up and act on the idea quickly. They trade services for access to a catering truck, get a logo, hang a shingle and start spreading the news faster than H1N1.
Alice Shin, better known to the world as "Aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice", sister of Caroline, heads the PR front and invites select food bloggers and others in the food media, all while she manages a full-time college career way over in New York City. Her efforts start early, even before there is a physical truck. (I have the emails to prove it.) Her internet voice continues to delight the legions of Kogi fans following her every post and tweet with updates on truck locations and menu items as well as very, very random musings and YouTube vids. The rest is history.
With the economy collapsing, it was the perfect storm of unfilled niche, a street food scene desperate to be hauled into the 21st century, low prices, delicious, simple yet imaginative food and a bunch of family and friends who know how to have fun running a business. This is Kogi. Happy birthday, Kogi and the gang! And maaaaany more!!!
Come celebrate Kogi's First Birthday! Click for deets & eats!