Archive for the 'Taco Truck' Category

Death of a Taco Truck

This is really old news, so I guess I’m just writing this for the few LIK readers out there who haven’t heard the tale of Taco de Mayo’s demise!

Things were good in the spring… the food was right, repeat customers started popping up at regular intervals, and I had the routine down to a science. And then BAM! One of my kitchen workers decided to stop showing up for work. Turns out she had some kind of family thing that required her to basically move to another city for a couple of weeks, but the dumbfuck never bothered to tell me. So I reacted by sending her a text message in Korean that basically said “I’m disappointed in you”, and to her it was like I had just stabbed her in the face. How dare I have anything to say when an employee inexplicably disappears on me! I didn’t tell her “get your ass back in the kitchen”, I just said I was very disappointed.

So I was down to one kitchen person, who happened to be the absent worker’s friend, and one kitchen person isn’t enough because prepping 50-60 burritos and 80-100 tacos is definitely a two person job. So I struggled to keep things afloat by working the kitchen during the day and the truck at night, and things got tougher when my remaining employee quit due to her friend’s absence.

On top of being shorthanded, the cops seemed to come around more often as it warmed up and they got pretty hardcore at times. They even started showing up with people from Seoul’s immigration office just in case anyone needed to be deported! Things came to a head on a very dark and stormy night when I was waiting for my usual parking spot to open up. The Moroccan Sandwich guy came up to my truck in a panic and said “You go! You go now!!” I was like “huh?” And he was like “You go!!!!” So I went. He wasn’t trying to get rid of competition, he was trying to do me a favor, and a big favor it was because rumor has it one street vendor that night got fined $20,000 or something. I know, right? WTF!!!!

And then came the rain. And more rain. It rained for over two months straight, and even though I had hired new kitchen staff the rain just killed business.

And in the middle of this mess, I came to the realization that I HATE WORKING IN THE FOOD SERVICE INDUSTRY! I could have overcome everything and stuck it out if I’d really wanted to, but I didn’t. I just hated it. So I shut it down.

The death of Taco de Mayo wasn’t entirely due to bad luck and bad employees; I made numerous mistakes from beginning to end that ranged from bad spending decisions to bad menu decisions. I refused to serve shitty half-Korean Mexican food, and as a result I had a product that cost too much to make for a street food market that had too many cheap, greasy options from other vendors. My food was definitely popular and I did increase prices a couple of times, but the production cost was more suited to a restaurant than a street situation.

If I could go back in time and do it again I’d sell something else. Maybe pizza. Buying pizzas from Costco for $2 a slice and reheating them for $4 a slice would have been way easier and I could have fired two employees. But hey whatever… something tells me I still would have hated it!

posted by Michael in Taco Truck on 11/19/2011 | No Comments

Korea’s got talent!

Wow I missed an entire month on LIK! Well it was a busy month selling tacos, and now I’ve got something else cooking… but that’s a secret. For now. Mr. Balzac would prefer to keep the details under wraps but I’m pretty sure he’ll eventually let the cat outta da bag.

What’s not a secret is that I’m “putting out feelers” to see if anyone wants to buy Itaewon’s most popular food truck! Many would ask, why now? Aren’t you about to make a shitload of money? And the answer is yes… peak season is here, and if I’m ever gonna sell my Mexican creation the time is *now* when there’s money for the next owner to make! It’s like trying to sell a Baskin Robbins franchise… May or November? Duh. You look for buyers when the perceived value is highest.

And here’s where the Korean talent portion of this post comes in. I saw this on a few facebook profiles (fuckin facebook!) and eventually got around to watching it. The guy can sing. And his story is tragic. And I wanna nail the judge in the middle.

posted by Michael in Taco Truck,YouTube Videos on 6/9/2011 | No Comments

Get the hell outta here! Or not…

A few weeks ago I decided to add Thursdays to the schedule because it’s getting warmer and I got bills to pay!

First time out on Thursday night, no problem. Didn’t sell a ton, but it was just enough to make it worthwhile.

Second time, problem. A cop showed up from the police station across the street, wrote down my license plate number, and took info from my ID card, all of which he tapped into his phone instead of on an official ticket-like document. Strange.

The following week, I skipped Thursday and instead went to Itaewon to drink and ask around if the cops were still being assholes. The answer was no!

The Thursday after that, problem again. Told to leave, not by an Itaewon cop, but by a Yongsan-gu cop. That’s kind of like getting kicked in the balls by someone with a higher pay grade which tends to hurt more.

The thing about doing this food truck in Itaewon is that being told to leave doesn’t always mean you can’t come back! After getting the boot on that first Thursday about 3 weeks ago, I spent the next night (Friday) trying to park in Sinchon and Hongdae. Naturally, that didn’t work cuz parking in those areas are just as bad as Kangnam which has already banned me from the burger truck days. So on Friday, after failing up north, I drove back down to Itaewon to see who, if anyone, was out selling… and… EVERYBODY was out there selling food, including people who got booted with me the night before.

So I pull my truck up directly in front of the police station, march in there, and order my Korean part-timer Gee to ask the cops DUDE WTF!! Why do these other people get to park their food trucks and I don’t?

Turns out the across-the-street Itaewon cops don’t really give a shit if we’re selling food at night. The previous night they got a complaint from someone, probably a business owner, and they were obligated to do their job and tell me to leave. Off the record, though, they don’t care if we come back a little later and park in the exact same spot we were kicked out of just as long as we respect their demands and hit the road when they say so.

It’s a fucked up cat-and-mouse game we play in Itaewon. It seems like if the local cops show up, we just need to disappear for an hour or so and then we can go back to business as usual. If the Yongsan-gu cops say get out, that actually means get out, for the night anyway.

Compared to other areas in Seoul, parking in Itaewon is really easy especially since I’ve been at this for a few months now and the other trucks know that the spot in front of Hamilton Hotel is MY spot. I don’t try to jack their spot and they don’t try to jack mine. Still, the taco biz would be a lot easier… and probably generate a lot more cash… if I could move it indoors! People think that running a truck is better economically, and that would be true if I could do business during daylight hours, but I’m starting to give serious thought to trading in the truck for a place with a front door. The truck’s success is heavily dependent on the weather, the hours are restrictive, and parking is sometimes a huge pain in my ass, but when I’m out there in the middle of the night on weekends I’m selling a lot of food. Makes me wonder what I could do with normal hours + extended drunk hours on the weekends and a 6-7 day schedule.

posted by Michael in Taco Truck on 4/24/2011 | No Comments

Cantando en Inglés es tonto

Cantando en Inglés es tonto = singing in English is stupid, according to Google translator.

As the weather continues to ease up I’m starting to spend more time sitting on my taco truck, and since I’m too goddam lazy to update the playlist I keep hearing the same Latin music I downloaded back in January while I was thinking, “when people hear this they’ll totally feel like they’re eating real Mexican food!”

So far, the few “real” Mexican people (as in they LIVE in Mexico) who have visited the truck so far have had good things to say about the food, usually calling it “pretty close” to what they’re used to. One group did me a huge favor in advising me to melt the cheese directly on the grill with the meat, and Taco de Mayo has been doing exactly that ever since which was definitely a good move since most people prefer nearly-liquified cheese over almost-melted cheese.

So getting back to the point, singing in English is stupid. Well, it’s kind of stupid on a taco truck, anyway, even though some of the Latin songs my computer plays are Americanized for the US charts. Below are a couple of songs that have grown on me over the past couple of months… “A Dios le Pido” is apparently some kind of plea to higher powers for peace and blessings, and don’t even bother asking me what the other one is about cuz I have no fucking idea. All I know is that they’re up to something dangerous because they keep saying “cuidado” which means something like “caution” or “be careful”. Yay for the Naperville Central High School Spanish department, I actually remember something from a million years ago.

posted by Michael in Music Videos,Taco Truck on 4/6/2011 | No Comments

Are you the Lost in Korea guy?

WHY YES I AM!

Actually that wasn’t my response to the question… I think my reply was more like “how the fuck do you know that??” [insert sideways glance here]

Turns out LIK actually has a reader and he was craving tacos, so he saddled up and came out to Itaewon on Saturday night. Wow! Shitty blog FTW.

Thanks for coming by Maurice!

note to Dad: FTW, which up until now I had never, ever used before in my life, means For the Win. It’s kind of like saying (hooray for) my shitty blog. And now you know! And knowing is half the battle.

Maurice is the epitome of the typical LIK reader: drop-dead gorgeous and teetering on the brink of insanity

Maurice is the epitome of the typical LIK reader: drop-dead gorgeous and teetering on the brink of insanity

posted by Michael in Taco Truck on 3/27/2011 | No Comments

Taco truck update

When I started drafting that last post about the truck I was still selling french fries, I wasn’t selling burritos, and I don’t think I had given the business a name yet! Fast forward a little bit and suddenly the fries are gone due to my electric fryer sucking up too much juice from the generator, I’m now making some fairly huge burritos which are gaining popularity with all the drunks roaming around, and I’ve dubbed the truck Taco de Mayo. See, it’s like the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo, but it’s Taco instead of Cinco. I even have an unofficial tagline… it’s like a fiesta in your mouth! (and everyone’s cumming) Maybe my next career should be in branding and corporate identity cuz, gosh, I’m just sooooo clever.

Since making improvements to the tacos (they tasted a little like shit the first couple of weeks) and adding burritos to the menu, sales (and the weather) have been getting progressively better. I’ve also managed to stake out a pretty good spot in Itaewon, right in front of Hamilton Hotel. We haven’t been able to park there the past month or so due to construction, but it looks like construction is finally done and we can reclaim our territory.

As for marketing, I’m trying to build a cult-like following through social media but it’s way harder than it sounds! Here’s what I’m currently doing:

  1. Take pictures of people who look like they’re having a good time while they’re eating
  2. Give them a business card that has Taco de Mayo’s Twitter & Facebook information, and tell them they can see their pic (and hopefully send it around to friends) in a couple of days after I get around to uploading it
  3. Before I upload the photos to the tacodemayo.com blog (which automatically posts links to Twitter & Facebook), I apply a template that shows my logo/website/twitter info

 

The obvious problem here is that I’m lazy as fuck, and sometimes it takes me several days to put the pics up! It would be better if I could upload instantly, but I feel compelled to put my stupid Taco de Mayo template on the photos.

So anyway, that’s my shitty attempt at marketing. I think soon I’m gonna come up with some kind of contest where people have to Like my page on Facebook or follow Taco de Mayo on Twitter and possibly win some free food in the process… but first I need to figure out how to do it in a way that isn’t completely stupid.

More random pics from the truck are available here:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=266365&id=500976027&l=8e7a6aa31d

Fiesta in your mouth!

Fiesta in your mouth!

Chicken taco

Chicken taco

Steak taco

Steak taco

Check out my photo template at the bottom of the pic... that's my attempt at viral marketing

Check out my photo template at the bottom of the pic... that's my attempt at viral marketing

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posted by Michael in Taco Truck on 3/16/2011 | No Comments

Tacos not cheeseburgers!

[I started this post about a month ago! So it’s basically irrelevant now… welcome to my life!]

See also Cheeseburgers not tacos

So it turns out selling burgers on the streets of Seoul is a fucking pain in the ass! The first two weeks of my burger adventure were absolute hell… at the end of my first day of operation I was seriously thinking holy shit what have I gotten myself into. We were cranking out some great burgers when we were able to park, but I learned pretty fast that parking a food truck in any area of Seoul not called Itaewon is nearly impossible.

Instead of bitching about every one of my truck-related ordeals in excruciating detail (and there were many) I’ll just give a quick rundown of some of the major ones over my first few weeks on the job:

  • First day: got yelled at by some old hag who owns a bread store in the building that we parked in front of… even though her storefront was at least 100 yards away from us, on the other side of the damn building
  • Second day: got permission to sell at lunchtime next to a hotel, permission revoked 3 days later for no apparent reason
  • Sold burgers at night in Kangnam near Ben’s apartment (again, not in front of any restaurants or burger joints), was great until our third day there when some asshole called the cops on us twice and got us banned from selling anywhere in Kangnam ever again
  • Parked in Apgujeong, right after setting up we were told we’d have to leave 15 minutes later

(btw I’m writing this post on the truck and just now some fat Korean guy appeared out of nowhere, leaned over like he was about to puke all over my grill, then fell sideways onto the sidewalk where he’s currently blowing chunks)

So eventually I figured out that Itaewon is the only place I can park this truck. (For those not in the know, Itaewon is Foreigner Central, as in the streets are filled with white people)

So as it turns out, Itaewon seems to be the only place where food trucks are tolerated… there are food tents all over Seoul, but if you’ve got wheels under you then you’re more or less fucked unless you’re in Itaewon where the cops tolerate our presence and illegal parking from about 9 pm to 6 am.

And that’s why I’m back on the taco wagon! Selling burgers to Korean people is genius, but in Itaewon it’s just kinda stupid since there are 500 bars selling burgers, not to mention McDonald’s, Burger King, Kraze Burger, and another burger truck that comes out on the weekends, and all this is happening on one stretch of road about 1/2 mile long.

So far it’s still pretty tough because it’s like fucking antarctica out here (especially during the night shift which is when I operate now), but when we do get customers the reception is always pretty good since non-Koreanized Mexican food is hard to come by in this town. Right now the menu is chicken tacos, steak tacos, french fries, and nacho cheese fries, and within the next month or so I’ll be concocting something to compete directly with all these assholes selling “kebabs” which are basically a skinny Middle Eastern version of a burrito.

posted by Michael in Taco Truck on 2/19/2011 | No Comments