What do hundreds of dollars worth of parking tickets, people cued up on Southern California streets, and Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches all have in common? These are constants in the lives of Nom Nom Truck owners Jennifer Green and Misa Chien.
The UCLA graduates emerged on the food truck scene in late 2009 after Green, born of Vietnamese decent, noticed a gaping hole on the foodie scene in Los Angeles—there was hardly any Vietnamese cuisine. With $25,000 of family investments and personal savings, the girls rented their first truck, wrapped it with a huge green monster logo, bought everything from spatulas to meat, and then waited for the thousands of Twitter followers they had already amassed to descend on them.
"We got a little bit of buzz before we started," says Green. "When people learned that a banh mi food truck was coming, people starting following us on Twitter," says Chien. "When we did launch, it was insane." Today the girls have two trucks—named Nominator and Nomacita—from which they serve nearly 800 people per day, six days per week, during their lunch and dinner shifts. Their trucks' location is tweeted out in advance to their 20,000-plus Twitter followers and nearly 13,000 Facebook fans. "There's an entire Nom Nom movement," says Chien. "We call our customers Nomsters and we call anything awesome Nomworthy." In April 2010, the duo and the Nominator competed on a two-month reality TV show, The Great Food Truck Race. The show took them across America and put the Nom Nom brand on the map. "It felt good to know our brand and food resonated across so many different demographics," says Chien. They won every challenge except the last one.
Despite missing two months of revenue during the show, Nom Nom earned $332,072 in revenue in 2010. Green and Chien expect to reach $1.2 million in revenue this year. But their success has not come without its challenges. They both put in 12-plus hour days on the truck in the first three months after launching, until they decided to hire help. They now have a staff of 10. Another challenge: parking. Tickets are a given, of course, but sometimes rages kicks in as well. "One business owner was mad at all the food trucks parked in front of the Hulu building and they turned the sprinklers on everyone," recalls Green. "But our dedicated fans stepped over the sprinklers to get our food."
The girls' larger goal is to introduce banh mi to as many people as possible in the U.S. Next stop: San Francisco. "We just want to ride it out and see where it takes us," says Chien.
NICOLE MARIE RICHARDSON is the executive editor for special projects at Inc.com. She manages the website's largest projects, including the Inc. 5000, an annual list of the fastest-growing, privately-held companies in America. @nicole_marie79