A few years ago, while driving up and back to the farmers market in Santa Monica to pick up produce for the Linkery, the North Park restaurant where they worked together, Kevin Ho, 24, and Juan Miron, 29, would bat about ideas for what they’d do next.
Miron found the muse last August in an article about the food truck phenomenon burgeoning in cities like L.A. and New York. Trucks serving Korean BBQ, unusual sandwiches, fancy burgers and everything in between have been garnering buzz in big metros around the country for serving epicurean delights from decidedly un-pretentious vehicles. The trucks announce their next locations on Facebook and Twitter and sometimes draw crowds of up to 100 for a taste from the truck.
Miron texted Ho, whose answer came quickly: “Yep, let’s do it.”
Thus MIHO Gastrotruck, an amalgam of the duo’s last names and a nod to mijo, a Spanish term of endearment, was born. They launched officially last weekend, with a promising sign: they ran completely out of food at the “30th on 30th” monthly restaurant crawl. All week, they’ve traversed the county, stopping to serve burgers, Vietnamese sandwiches called banh mi, tacos and potato croquetas to foodies and skeptics in Kearny Mesa, North Park and UTC.
I spotted the truck last weekend in my neighborhood and was curious. This week, I tried to reach the pair by e-mail. Twice. Then I tweeted them. No response.
So I went on their website, found out they’d be outside an office park in Kearny Mesa for lunch Thursday, and went to track them down. While I munched on a tasty tofu banh mi, Miron filled me in.
What about San Diego right now makes this truck in the right place at the right time?
We are coming in at a time where this hot food truck scene is going to blow up eventually. San Diego sometimes is a little bit behind the curve.
So what makes this the right thing? We serve handmade street food. We make everything by hand. We make our mayonnaise, all of our aioli. We work directly with the farms and we go pick it up.
There’s a little bit of eye candy (on the hand-painted truck). There’s nice touches, thoughtful things. A lot of love goes into the preparation of it. We have music playing. We want people to hang out here.
Earlier, we had 15 people eating lunch on the curb. And that’s what we want to do.
There’s something really interesting to me about being in Kearny Mesa, right at this moment. And there’s office parks as far as the eye can see, and Miramar, and you guys bring your food truck. It’s got farm-fresh food in it, and you guys have struck out already and said, “We’re in our 20s and we want to do something for ourselves.”
Do you see anything in that juxtaposition? I mean, what you are, parked in the middle of this?
I really have never thought of it that way but that’s really interesting. Yeah, I mean, I worked for Starbucks for seven years. Starbucks was a great company; I loved working for them. But after a while I was like, I want to try something different, and I left.
And same for Kevin. He was working at a nonprofit, and with cutbacks, he got laid off. But he was still working at the Linkery. That’s where we both met and got along really well and knew that we wanted to do something for ourselves.
But yeah, it is kind of interesting how we both had, you know — day jobs. And now we’re coming to a place where we’re offering to people who have day jobs. Yeah.
What do you think they’re thinking as they walk away? They’ve eaten a banh mi, or they’ve eaten a burger. They sat on the curb for 20 minutes and got outside.
I hope that they walk away knowing that they got fed real food. Had a break during their day without having to go eat at a fast-food place. They got a genuine connection. And it’s, in the middle of their day, a kind of refreshment, before having to go back to work.
And feeling like, “Hey, I got a real meal. It’s made by people that I’m seeing here.”
How did you come up with the menu? It’s not static, right?
We’ll always have our burger, and our tacos, and the banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich). But it’s definitely going to be seasonal. We came up with the menu because we are very inspired by street food. I was born in Chula Vista but raised in Tijuana. And he comes from a Chinese family, raised here in San Diego.
I’m from Mexico, so I love tacos. Absolutely love ‘em. And he loves banh mis.
We love street food. We love how, when you go to another country and you eat street food, you really get the vibe of what that country has to offer, you know? It’s very roots; it’s very down-to-earth. You have a genuine interaction with a person who prepared the food and made it. It’s not like you go somewhere and you don’t even know who was part of your food chain.
Yep. And we personally eat like that as well — we like farm-driven menus.
So that’s why we worked at the Linkery. The Linkery was a huge inspiration for us. We were both servers there, and I was a food liaison there — doing the networking with farms. Having that role, I was able to build really good relationships. So right now, we use Suzie’s organic bibb leaf lettuce, their romaine red savoy and wild arugula for our salad. We also use the bibb leaf lettuce for our burger. All the meat that we use is all-natural meat, so the burger is grass-fed from Estancia. And the pork is Niman Ranch. And the chicken’s all-natural Jidori chicken.
Is there any piece of you that is thinking, “I’m really glad I got this started before I was 30?” Is that a milestone for you?
Oh yeah, it was a big deal. I really wanted to work for myself, and so did Kevin. I personally had a goal to do something before I hit 30.
Do something like this?
Do something where I wouldn’t care if I had to work, like, 100 hours a week, because it would be for us. Something where we could pour all of our passion, our creativity, incorporate music, food, service, create a really good environment.
We just love creating unforgettable moments, whether it’s with food or with libations.
When you have to eat on the run, what do you eat?
Well, right now, we’re eating here. (Laughs.) But before, we like sandwiches. We try to eat places that are pretty healthy. I don’t like eating commercial food. I don’t want to sound — well, people can take it however they want to take it — but this is the way people use to eat, back in the day.
Food trucks, when we found out about the industry, food trucks used to serve real food. That’s what people have been telling us. They didn’t use to go to construction sites, which is where they go now.
Not like sourcing from farms and all-natural meats, but they used better ingredients. And that’s so important.
What you put in your body is so important. And sometimes I don’t think people see that. People will sometimes say, “Oh my god, that’s $8?” But they’ll buy themselves a flat-screen TV, you know? So we just want to serve all kinds of people. We’re not going for a specific market.
— Interview conducted and edited by KELLY BENNETT