When Kogi Korean BBQ first hit the Los Angeles streets in November 2008, the business' pioneers had no permanent kitchen, only one traveling truck and no customers. The employees ended up eating most of the food.
So how do they now have patrons lined up for their $2 tacos sometimes for two hours only six months later? Attribute it to more than 25,000 followers on Twitter and the thrill of a Marco-Polo-esque chase for chow.
Chris Muller, a professor of food service management at the University of Central Florida, said although the Kogi business model is spawning imitators and creating loyal fans, he doubts the trend will last past the next year.
"The restaurant industry is nothing if not good at stealing other people's good ideas," Muller said. "The problem, of course, is that a food truck is a very low barrier to entry business model. Twitter and the excitement of the immediate, have made Kogi very sexy and very desirable to copy."
On the other hand, Muller said he doesn't see restaurants giving up on social network marketing any time soon.
"I don't see any diminishment of the social media models being used in restaurants," he said. "The use of new media is only going to grow as operators attempt to keep up with their customers."
Twitter also tips off followers of The Treats Truck, another restaurant on wheels, located in New York. Although the bakery sometimes tweets only half as often as Kogi - and has only about 1,200 followers to show for it - customers can call ahead and special order desserts for satellite pick up at one of the truck's weekly locations.
But the big difference between the two restaurants, and probably what has allowed Kogi to garner so much buzz, is that Treats preemptively provides a weekly schedule of trucks' locations on its site, taking away from its lure of spontaneity. Kogi's whereabouts can change at the drop of a hat.
Blogs are picking up on the "twitt-aurant" phenomenon and are keeping track of how many establishments have utilized the marketing strategy, compiling lists worthy of a Zagat rating. The results span from coast-to-coast: Nine Mile of North Carolina (685 followers), Louisiana Cafe in its namesake state (53 followers) and Queen City Grill of Seattle (128 followers) are only a few more examples of restaurants on Twitter.