A self-decribed quarter-life crisis is usually resolved through a long vacation or a couple stiff drinks. Sunny Lin and Sophia Woo went a different route to solve their lack of career and personal fulfillment. They chose to open their own food truck called Pho Nomenal Dumpling Truck, significantly changing the trajectory their careers and lives.
In today’s exclusive interview with co-founder Sophia Woo, we learn how Pho Nomenal Dumpling Truck got its start. As you’ll soon learn there was no shortage of creativity or ambition from the pair that leveraged a KickStarter Campaign to raise the initial capital for their truck. We hope you enjoy this interview and be sure to check out the truck in person if you live in Raleigh.
FTE: Tell me a bit about yourself, your business, and how long you’ve been operating?
Sophia: The Pho Nomenal Dumpling Truck (former the Dump Pho King Truck) has been in operation since 2014. Its run by the two of us, Sunny Lin and Sophia Woo, 50/50 and started off as basically a quarter-life crisis. We were both wanting to make a change in our careers and decided that we wanted to spread our love of food and our culture in a creative way. We built the food truck ground-up during the winter of 2013 with a lot of help, ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to get us off the ground and started selling food April of 2014. While neither Sunny nor I had any formal culinary training (she’s an biomedical engineer and I’m an accountant by training) we both grew up appreciating other food cultures.
FTE: How did you learn how to start a food truck in your area?
Sophia: The food truck community was extremely welcoming and helpful when we were starting off. The city was also great at helping us getting an understanding of all the business intricacies of running a food truck. The best resource was a couple of kind food truck owners who answered all of our crazy questions and responded to our semi-frantic emails. We are so appreciative of our food truck family here in the Triangle. All the food trucks who paved the way before us – changing people’s conceptions of food truck, the trucks who started at the same time as us and commiserated with us in our first year of business, and the trucks who came after us who keep us energized and reinvigorate us.
FTE: What are some of the unique challenges of operating a food truck in Raleigh?
Sophia: Unique challenges include the fact that Raleigh is a growing city that’s still figuring out its infrastructure. It’s really exciting to be living here as the city goes through this growth transformation. But since so much is happening, there is still a lot of moving parts when it comes to operating a mobile food unit. It’s slowly and surely being worked out and all parties have worked really hard to make sure there is a contextualized solution that works for everyone.
One of the most common challenges beginning food truck owners have is navigating city regulations, including health and fire safety requirements. As you know these regulations vary considerably from county to county and city to city. Where should entrepreneurs go to find information about the local health code and fire safety regulations?
We here in the Triangle are very lucky in that passionate individuals and food truck owners had organized and formed an association (RDUMFA – RDU Mobile Food Association). Most of the food trucks around have joined the organization which serves as a fantastic resource for any of our food truck needs and acts as a voice for us when we need it. They help keep us abreast of regulation changes, provide training, and in general work to keep us a family. I’d always suggest aspiring food truck owners to seek out organizations like this near them. Of course, if you aren’t lucky enough to have a support organization around, most cities and counties have resources online. We’ve also found during our time that health inspectors are a great source of information as well and fairly plugged into the local food scene.
FTE: What do you love about being a food truck owner?
Sophia: I love getting to interact with our customers on a daily basis. There’s nothing that puts a smile on my face more than when I see a person try our food for the first time and have a moment. That moment is what any cook or chef chases after!
FTE: Finally, if you could give only one piece of advice for new food truck entrepreneurs. What would that nugget of advice be?
Sophia: Don’t give up, but definitely have people around you who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth and audit you. Focus on what you are really good on and forget everything you are bad at. You can always hire someone to help with the things you aren’t good at. Treat your employees like family and they will take care of your customers. If you have a partner, make sure you are ready to work on that partnership – not just the business.
Want to start your own food truck in Raleigh? Here are some resources that can help you get started on the right track.
Pho Nomenal Dumpling Truck – Check out the unique menu that includes Taiwanese Spaghetti and Vegan Thai Curry Noodles. You can also check their schedule to see where they’ll be vending next.
Raleigh Food Trucks – A list of some of the other great food truck vendors that operate within the city.
Downtown Raleigh Food Truck Rodeo – Large downtown event held monthly from May – October. Great opportunity to eat at food truck and carts that operate across North Carolina.
RDU Food Truck Association – If you’re planning to operate a food truck in Raleigh involvement in this organization is highly recommended.
Start a Food Truck – Learn the five steps that Anthony Salvagno took to start his own food truck.