Ming’s Asian Street Food Keeps Truckin’ Along
The husband-and-wife food truck team is combating event cancellations with social media promotion while serving up Southeast Asian fried chicken sandwiches, Korean tacos and more.
Three years ago, starting a food truck without any professional culinary background seemed challenging enough for now husband-and-wife team Korn Suom and Josh Burgoyne of Ming’s Asian Street Food, but then the pandemic hit. The couple had just returned from their honeymoon when the COVID-19 situation began to take hold locally, and they had to figure out how to sustain their food business in rapidly changing times.
Ming’s Asian Street Food puts its own spin on Southeast Asian street food while reflecting on Suom’s Cambodian culture. The husband and wife work side-by-side cooking on the line together, and handling the financials and other tasks of running the business. The menu highlights include five varieties of Asian fried chicken sandwiches, Korean tacos and a banh mi sandwich spread with pate and stacked with a housemade pork patty made with ginger, sweet soy sauce, garlic and lemongrass, plus fresh herbs, cucumbers, jalapenos and cilantro.
Right now the most popular choices are the Kickin’ Chicken and Hot Chicken sandwiches, but not everything is super spicy. “We have so many different flavor profiles,” Suom says. “We have salty, sweet, sour and spicy and they all blend together to make one perfect bite.”
Before the pandemic hit, Ming’s whole year was booked with events. “We were probably going to beat our 2019 numbers,” Burgoyne says. “Then all of a sudden, everything was gone. The CDC said no more gatherings of fifty or more people, and we were getting emails from wedding clients saying they were postponing their weddings. Event after event was canceled, and we realized the whole slate was going to be wiped clean.”
Suom and Burgoyne had to think quickly about how to adapt their mobile food business. Without any events to cater, they were forced to come up with alternative plans to make money. “We had about a month to reboot and rebrand,” Suom says.
They quickly minimized contact for customers and embraced the positives. “We created an online ordering system, like every restaurant has done,” Burgoyne says. “And we have fewer employees, so fewer people come into contact with the food. One advantage of a food truck over a restaurant is the overhead is generally lower. With only three employees, we didn’t have the crushing overhead that restaurants have. Also, we’re mobile, so we can pick up and move to places where there are more people.”
The couple started offering more street service by sharing locations on social media more often, and they opened up service in the parking lot where they have their commercial kitchen at the Lorraine Mills at 560 Mineral Spring Avenue in Pawtucket.
“The most important part of the business has been pushing social media, and sharing our schedule,” Suom adds.
The couple started the food truck together about three years ago, out of a shared passion for food. Suom’s mother and father immigrated from Cambodia in the early ‘80s to escape genocide and the war, and they quickly connected to the community at a local Buddhist Temple. Suom grew up going to the temple every Sunday and cooking and sharing meals with the other families there.
“There was the community aspect where everybody brings a dish and you share it with everybody after service,” Suom says. “I grew up making food with my mom and all the women of the temple and connecting through that experience.”
In Cambodia, “Ming” means auntie, says Suom, so that is the thought behind the name for their business. “If you are coming to Ming’s, you’re eating with family, with auntie,” Suom says.
When the couple decided to enter the food truck world, Burgoyne was working a desk job for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management at the time, while Suom was on staff at a local pre-school. Burgoyne saw an ad for a solar-powered trailer, and decided to rent it for six months to get the concept off the ground. Eventually, they purchased a real food truck from Friskie Fries. They adapted the menu over time to see what resonated with local fans. It turned out the chicken sandwiches were the biggest hits.
“Our hot chicken sandwich is a Korean version that has a Korean chili-based sauce, but it also has blue cheese and special pickles that are found in Korean or Vietnamese cuisine made from carrot and radish,” Burgoyne says. “It presents as an American dish but there are lots of authentic Asian components.”
Recently, catering for small groups has picked back up, so they’ve been scheduling gigs again, and they are bringing in business from customers who come to support other small businesses in the mill, such as Crooked Current Brewery and White Dog Distilling. They all support each other. Ming’s also rents their kitchen space from Chi Kitchen, and uses the kimchi on the sandwiches. They also source bread from Wayland Square Bakery.
There are plans to turn the parking area, sculpture park and benches outside their kitchen at 560 Mineral Spring Avenue into a food truck park, too. They hope this will bring more business to the building. Even with all the challenges from the pandemic, Ming’s keeps truckin’ along.
“It’s really satisfying to do it somewhat successfully, because it makes you realize, if I can do this, I can do pretty much anything,” Burgoyne says. “There are days when it’s really hard, but you pull it off.”
“Then a customer comes back and says, ‘That’s the best chicken sandwich I ever had, and it all makes it worth it,” Suom says.