Roy Choi is credited with kicking off the food truck craze in 2008 with his Kogi Korean BBQ truck in Los Angeles.
This year, the Korean-born, Los Angeles-raised chef took on community-building with the debut of the quick-service restaurant LocoL, in Los Angeles’ lower-income Watts neighborhood.
Choi teamed with San Francisco-based fine-dining chef Daniel Patterson on LocoL, which serves high-quality food at price points ranging from $2 to $4.
Along with paying staff about 20 percent more than minimum wage, the Wall Street Journal reported, Choi also offers benefits like a monthly three-day spiritual workshop session.
At the NRN MUFSO conference in October, Choi opened up about the core tenets of the restaurant industry. “It’s not like we’re totally balling all the time,” he told attendees during a keynote discussion. “We live to feed people.”
Business can be about more than the bottom line, and employee benefits were part of LocoL from the beginning, he noted.
“That’s part of our business plan,” Choi said.
Choi’s food truck laid the foundation for a service-driven business model. Before launching Kogi, he was laid off from a promising career with Hilton Hotels, where he had worked for more than 10 years. After three months without a job, he began to feel desperate.
“Desperation does a lot to build courage,” Choi said.
So in 2008, with two friends, he started serving Korean tacos from a truck, using what was then a new type of marketing — social media.
“Ours was not a big dream,” Choi said. “Our idea was to go to clubs, meet some ladies and serve some tacos, and make a little shoe money.”
Today, Choi’s small dream has the potential to make a big impact on the restaurant industry.