It’s amazing what a reality show can do for your food truck.
Co-owners Jennifer Green and Misa Chien met during their time at UCLA. It was also during that time that they realized they could fill a niche in the growing food truck scene.
“It started in 2009 when we had a lot of Kogi BBQ trucks around the UCLA campus and their popularity grew out of nowhere,” says Jennifer. “I made a lot of Vietnamese food for my friends on a regular basis and I realized the lack of Vietnamese restaurants in the West LA area. Then it clicked.”
Green and Chien chose the classic Vietnamese baguette sandwich, banh mi, as their truck’s specialty not only because there was a lack of places that served it in their area, but because it’s easy to eat.
“It’s portable, it’s fast and has a fresh taste that you can’t get from a burrito or hamburger,” states Jennifer. “The great thing is that we can also put a little bit of our gourmet twist on it too. One of the most traditional banh mi ingredients is grilled pork and I grill it with honey, which is a little different than the traditional. We also have Lemongrass Chicken and Vietnamese tacos, which are like a banh mi in your hand.”
“We also work with Le Boulanger to have our bread baked especially for us from a recipe I worked really hard on.”
Indeed, the perfectly crusty on the outside, pillowy on the inside French bread roll is key to a good banh mi, and it was the highlight of the sandwich when I got a chance to sample their Honey Grilled Pork version. The pickled carrots and daikon that topped the sandwich were flavored well and super fresh, but I wish I’d gotten more of them to create more of a textural and taste contrast to the sweet pork. And I missed the lack of fish sauce flavor that brings it all together.
All in all, it seemed like something similar enough to what I could get in a Vietnamese Mom and Pop shop. So what’s the big deal?
First, the size of this sandwich is double the size of one you’d get at a typical brick and mortar. Coming in at 12 inches long, it’s a torpedo of a dish. But more importantly, Nom Nom is obviously trying to appealing to those who have never had a banh mi before.
“It’s exciting to see how many people who have never had one before try it and see their reaction, says Misa. “It’s like an introduction to Vietnamese food for those who have never had it. We’re appealing to the American palate.”
Their popularity has grown steadily, peaking when they started showing up on the Food Network reality show.
“We went into it wanting an adventure and it was a great way to expose our truck to a larger audience. People totally embraced us and it was great to see that feedback,” says Misa. “To see a small town embrace a food dish they’d never tasted like banh mi was a great experience.”
“We were bummed we came in second, but deep down we had to tell each other it was just a reality show. And the great thing was that we won the chance to travel and it was amazing,” says Jennifer.
Nom Nom recently acquired their third food truck and their next move was up north…at least for Misa.
“We decided on San Francisco because it’s a real foodie town and it’s been a dream of mine, personally to live up here,” she says. “We have two trucks in LA and one in San Francisco, now. I’m not complaining that I had to move up here! And the response has been great. People up here come to the truck, whereas in LA, you have to go to the people. They’re a little lazier down there.”
For now, Green and Chien don’t have any other plans to expand. “We have three babies right now and we’re focused on them,” says Jennifer.
For two women fresh out of college, running several food trucks in two major cities can be a challenge, but their goals are clear.
Misa says, “At the end of the day, we want to make people happy through our food. And as employers we want to hire staff that will work together to create an amazing company and work environment. Plus I get to build a great business with my best friend!”