You like food. You like startups. You’re a business student living off peanut butter jelly sandwiches, making minimum wage at your full time job. Suddenly, a brilliant idea pops into your head.
This is the story of Simon Yu, founder of the Bomba Fusion food truck in Seattle.
A business based on the innovative blend of Korean and Mexican cuisine, Bomba Fusion strives to provide its customers with quality food, great service, and affordable prices. The menu features Mexican-style burritos, tacos, and chips that can be paired with Korean-style meat options such as beef bulgogi, pork bulgogi, sweet and spicy chicken, or spicy tofu.
“It’s supposed to be an explosion of flavor in your mouth, that’s why we named it ‘bomb’ in Spanish,” Yu said.
The original idea dates back to 2011. Yu used to be a sophomore at UW and had to drop out, as he was unable to afford it. He started working at Bank of America as a full-time teller, but wanted to make more money. As a business student, he thought of starting his own business to gain experience on the side.
Originally, he tried a personal food-delivery business. Yu would prepare tacos at home and deliver them in a style similar to current companies like EAT24 or GrubHub.
This didn’t work out too well.
“My scale was so small, and I was doing everything by myself, so every time I made a delivery I was actually losing money,” Yu explained.
So, he tried something different. He started to use his mom’s Korean meat recipes to try a new fusion. He served it to his friends and they loved it.
Turning his original recipes into a real business was difficult. Although the first two months were slow and disappointing, the business suddenly took off through word-of-mouth and Facebook.
“It was 2011, that was when Facebook didn’t do any paid advertising,” Yu said. “Your posts weren’t filtered to just 50 friends. When something was posted, everyone saw it. That’s how it all took off.”
Once he had enough money, he went back to school and graduated. Fast-forward to 2015, and Yu now works a full-time job.
Incidentally, Yu’s parents recently lost their jobs.
“The timing turned a bad situation into a good situation,” he said. “Starting January, we’ve had this truck and they can work at it now.”
With his startup idea finally starting to come together, Yu started to look at investments. He reached out to friends as well as his former manager at Amazon. He then found a partner in Mark Wang, who works at Amazon and graduated from UW two years ago.
“He’s very detail-oriented, which is something I like,” Yu said. “I go by instinct, but for him it’s all about getting it all right. He keeps the business running.”
Being a startup, one does a little bit of everything. Yu and Wang run operations together, and constantly look for new deals. About a month ago, they partnered with SpoonRocket — a service that delivers food from restaurants and trucks to locations in Seattle.
“It’s a very competitive business, but it has great demand,” Wang said. “Working class people have very little time for lunch, and when they visit our truck we want to give them the best food as fast as we can.”
The best thing about being a food truck business is the opportunity to explore. Wang always tries to find the best locations for the truck.
“We try to experiment, and I think that’s the creative part behind being a food truck,” Yu said. “You move around, and each time, you find a better place.”
All locations in Seattle are not the same. Some days, a new spot may only bring in 25 orders whereas another may bring 200.
“We just started at the Seattle Public Library,” Yu said about the truck’s most popular spot. “Downtown [Seattle] attracts the tourists and also the corporations. Anywhere you get two types of people is always popular.”
Moreover, the popularity of certain menu items often depends on the geographical locations. Some locations have more gluten-free or vegetarian orders. Being finance majors, Yu and Wang track previous sales and predict what might be most popular in a certain location. They want to avoid any wasted food.
The main challenges with the business are based on issues of truck dependency.
“If the truck doesn’t run, your business doesn’t run, and you lose a day,” Yu said.
But the benefits are greater than the risks.
“With restaurants, you lock down a spot,” he said. “With a truck, you don’t have to lock that rent down, and you have a lot more flexibility with location too.”
Furthermore, with restaurants, there are a lot of dead hours that have to be saved by the “happy hour.” Trucks don’t have to operate when it’s not going to be profitable.
Today, the food truck industry is growing at a rapid rate. If you’ve got a truck, there are many business benefits to be made. However, with Oregon and California already having a price ceiling on all food trucks, and Seattle trotting behind them in close range, you need to get in the game at the right time.
“The reason a lot of people fail is because they try to do too much at once,” Yu said. “You have to have the vision, put in the hard work, and be patient.”
Yu and Wang function on two to three hours of sleep every night. They work their daytime jobs as well as handle the Bomba business to keep it functioning for upcoming catering events at festivals and fairs.
“We work in a small compartment,” said Aria Tserendolgor, Bomba’s cashier, about working in a food truck. “So we are close in both the literal as well as emotional sense. This kind of job forces you to stay connected, and makes working easier and fun.”
At the World Barista Championship this year, they will cater to 1,000 people. In June, certain fairs may bring in 25,000 people.
“Our goal is to get a restaurant by next January,” Yu said about Bomba’s plans for the future. “We’re looking for locations in Ballard and Capitol Hill — where there are younger people. We’re trying to focus on people who are into trendy food.”
The business has a long way to go, but every milestone counts.
“You have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone,” Wang said. “We always insist on higher standards, and that’s how we slowly get better.”
At the truck, orders are ready in under five minutes.
“I never knew that Korean and Mexican food could combine so well,” said a customer who ordered a vegetarian version of the Bomba Chips, featuring spicy tofu.
The menu features all-original recipes that perfectly combine Mexican-style meals with traditional Korean flavors in large, yet affordable, helpings.
“We’re trying to bring back the Korean culture, to be like a Chipotle here.” Yu said.
Find the weekly Bomba Fusion food truck in Seattle by tracking their schedule on bombafusion.com or on Facebook. The truck runs Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Reach writer Jeevika Verma at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @jeeeevika