Lessons from a Taco Truck

27 Feb 2009|imor

Last night Leah and I joined some friends at Lung Shan – a nondescript Chinese restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission District. (At this point those who know me are wondering, “why???” –Ever since I came back from a summer trip through Asia, I’ve been disappointed – to say the least – by the Chinese food options available in most of the Bay Area. That is beside the point; and this story isn’t about food.) But unlike other nights of the week, Thursday and Saturday evenings at Lung Shan offer no Chinese food. “What’s that?” you say, “a Chinese restaurant without Chinese food?” –Exactly. For two nights a week, this restaurant’s kitchen is taken over by Mission Street Food and their guest chefs, serving up fantastic creations, sometimes theme-inspired, always enticing.

The idea was the brainchild of Anthony Myint, a line cook at Bar Tartine who was looking to deliver unique culinary experiences at quite affordable prices. What comes to question is the timing of this business venture. In a city known for its culinary prowess, here’s another offering trying to stand out. But more importantly, what individual in their right mind would look to open a restaurant during one of the nation’s worst economic downturns, as households are cutting back on entertainment expenses and the Wall Street Journal reports of countless restaurants shutting their doors? Myint’s approach: Start small. Scale bigger.

For $150 (so I was told by our server last night), Chef Myint rented the “Antojito’s San Miguel” taco truck. With a little help from the food blog-o-sphere, the first night proved a tremendous success – Myint in the “kitchen,” and his wife, Karen, taking orders while scores of people clustered at the sidewalk. They repeated the experiment the following week with greater success, and on it went on to become a weekly gathering of sorts. Eventually (thanks in part to some difficulties they encountered with a local developer), Myint ended the weekly taco truck operation and made arrangements with Lung Shan, the Chinese restaurant, to make use of their facility during times they were already closed to the public. It was a “win, win, win,” situation – the third win being for the local charities who benefit from Mission Street Food’s weekly proceeds.

Lessons learned: In the process of exploring and refining new opportunities, we regularly measure the successes and failures of product, service, and experience prototypes. As we work with our clients to consider how to move forward with limited resources, yesterday evening’s dinner was a refreshing reminder that right now is an excellent time to challenge ourselves as creative problem-solvers, and have fun while doing it. Your taco truck awaits.

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