The chefs at the KoJa Kitchen food truck serve unique dishes combining both Japanese and Korean flavors on the streets of San Francisco. The truck made our list of 101 Best Food Trucks in America 2013 at number 54 because of their innovative idea to serve these dishes between two rice patties, a nice break from the standard tortilla or bun we see with most food trucks. Their menu includes Korean barbecue beef, chicken with pineapple, and their signature Kamikaze fries, topped with beef, sautéed onions, kimichi, green onions, and Japanese mayo. We caught up with the owners to talk about the business, the truck, and most importantly, the food.
When did you launch your truck?
What was the inspiration for going into this business?
Inspiration and drive primarily comes from the entrepreneurial opportunity to create a product that customers would enjoy and want to purchase. Through various strategy discussions of potential start-up ideas with the four co-founders, we had identified a market opportunity within the gourmet fast-casual dining industry. We were aware of the mature mobile food markets that existed within Los Angeles and New York City, but the Bay Area had yet to begin. The team was confident that there was an untapped entrepreneurial opportunity within the mobile gourmet catering business. The number of mobile vendors in 2010 was scarce and many were not rated very high by their consumers. The co-founders, immediately became students of the gourmet fast-casual dining industry. The majority of 2011 was spent on reading various articles, learning about our competition, understanding all service/product gaps, and R&D of our Asian fusion concept, which has led us to study TV shows such as The Great Food Truck Race and The Shark Tank. The KoJa Kitchen team has documented, studied, and implemented many of the key elements from these "reality" shows. Another useful TV series was called America’s Next Great Restaurant on NBC. Many months and countless nights/weekends were spent on research. This was critical in order to clearly understand product/market fit. The team experimented with a variety of Asian fusion cuisines, but ultimately decided to combine Korean and Japanese under one brand due to the market gap for this type of cuisine in a mobile environment. Ultimately, our focus is to make a lasting mark within the gourmet fast-casual dining industry.
What's the story behind the origin of your truck's name?
Due to the fusion of our cuisine, we felt the name KoJa appropriately signified the union between KO-rean and JA-panese.
How did you come up with your truck's design? Is there a designer you'd like to give a shout-out to?
The design/logo concept was an intense collaborative effort between all co-founders and a very talented graphic design artist (@creativicadsign).
What's your signature dish? Is it also your most popular dish?
All of our dishes are signature dishes, but our Kamikaze Fries have been a heavily demanded item.
What's the most challenging thing about running your food truck?
Everything. Nothing is easy or moderately difficult in the mobile fast-casual dining industry. All aspects are huge challenges and require gladiator skills.
If you haven't already, would you ever go brick-and-mortar? And if you have, is there anything you feel gets lost in the transition?
Our team is driving growth through a variety of potential distribution channels in conjunction with our mobile restaurant. Brick-and-mortar is definitely in the pipeline.
What one piece of advice would you give someone looking to get into the food truck business?
Understand product/market fit and the concept of disruptive innovation.
Any new upcoming dishes planned that you can tell us about?
Unfortunately, that is top secret.
Any new plans on the horizon you can share?
That is also top secret.