The Famous Dumpling Bros. Big Knife Tacos. The Pickled Carrot. Coochies BBQ. While our city offers more local eateries than your average spot on the map, these four are among a different breed because they are on wheels.
In the not-so-distant past, Denton’s leadership struggled with should-we-or-shouldn’t-we enact local ordinances, allowing the food truck industry to thrive in our city. They opted yes, and it’s proven to be an excellent compliment to our brick-and-mortar restaurants, not to mention our original, independent identity.
John Williams, owner of Eastside and Oak Street Draft House (OSDH), was first in Denton to run with it when he paved the back of his property behind Eastside and introduced some of the best food truck chefs in the region to Denton. Austin St. Truck Stop opened in 2014 as Denton’s first official food truck park.
While trucks and cuisines come and go by invitation, the four trucks mentioned above are Austin St. Truck Stop’s permanent tenants. Today is the first of a two-part series about the food truck life through the eyes of John Kang, who started The Famous Dumpling Bros two years ago.
“Our first week of opening was a food truck festival across from OSDH that John put together,” Kang said. “He invited us to join the event, and in two hours we were sold out. John saw how popular we were and invited us to Eastside, which was great, because I didn’t have any idea where to go yet.”
Since moving in to Austin St., demand for the dumplings has skyrocketed. Dumpling Bros is regularly featured at private events and hired for catering gigs. They were among the top three food trucks in the Denton Record Chronicle’s 2017 Best of Denton, and, just two weeks ago, won Best Signature Dish out of 40 competitors at the 2017 Food Truck Championship of Texas in Graham.
After hearing Kang’s story, the movie “Chef” comes to mind. Likely based on somebody’s true-life experience, it’s a wonderful tale much like Kang’s about a food-passionate guy who starts a food truck. Here’s the deal: food trucking looks cool and is even cooler to patronize, but it’s a lot of hard work and costs a few pennies to get started.
Kang spent every penny in the bank, around $32,000, getting his food truck up and running after leaving his corporate sales job to pursue the dream. Some might’ve called his career change at 42 a mid-life crisis, except the gamble has proven to be a good one for him.
John Kang (center) and crew receive their award for Best Signature Dish at the 2017 Food Truck Championship of Texas in Graham.
A legal requirement for food trucks everywhere is a commissary (a proper kitchen) and it’s one of the biggest quandaries food truck folks face. Kang got lucky with the help of some friends, especially considering the labor that goes into hand-rolling his famous Korean dumplings.
Those friends include the Freedom House, a non-profit ministry that gives men second chances after the devastation of addiction, homelessness and prison. Zera Coffee in Denton is part of that work, assimilating these men back into mainstream society. Kang is a long-time volunteer with the group, and they were eager to join his endeavor as Dumpling Bros’ commissary.
“We get to use their kitchen, have storage for inventory, and we pay them rent,” Kang said. “I feel good paying them rent because I know our money is going to a really good cause.”
As patrons, we share in that work, too. But it’s not just patrons connecting all these dots. Kang is expanding to a second truck this year, and he’s financing it in a most creative way.
Crowdfunding is not new to me, but I admit I’ve not really understood it before now. Kang is working with NextSeed, the first funding portal for regulation crowdfunding registered and sanctioned by U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. In short, this is a way for anyone, regardless of income or net worth, to invest in local business for as little as $100. Since its founding in Houston in 2014, NextSeed now has offices in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, and has funded more than $3.8 million across 19 different companies and paid investors $700,000.
Kang’s sound business plan and good credit earned him a campaign with NextSeed that, in just two weeks, has raised $80,000 of the $95,000 he needs for expanding Dumpling Bros. He has two more weeks to meet the goal.
“There are two primary motivations for investors: the ROI and the altruistic fact of investing in the small business community,” Kang said.
We’ll delve deeper into John Kang’s personal story next week and explore an otherworldly bridge with the word “seed” in this story.