Teena Nguyen grins at her own naivete when recalling the story: her brother, who runs a construction catering company, had an extra truck – but it was old, nearly rusted through, and needed a huge amount of work.
“I told him I was thinking of a little side project I wanted to do with it,” she says, then adding with a smile. “But you can’t do something like this just as a side project.”
It would seem not. Nguyen and Nammi Food Truck co-owner Gary Torres have spent the past four months in their now-renovated and sparkling-clean food truck, routinely logging 18-hour days in the 100-degree heat while traveling through the city serving up their hot, fresh and filling sandwich – the Banh Mi (Bánh Mì).
Fortunately for Nguyen and Torres, they have plenty to smile about. During the food truck craze of 2011, Nammi is on the crest of the wave, and riding it among the highest of the group of mobile culinary entrepreneurs. Nammi’s social media following has risen at a mighty trajectory (now boasting more than 1,800 followers on Facebook and 1,300 on Twitter), but more importantly, the customers are returning – and recommending it their friends. Though it’s true that the turnout can vary from place to place, a slow day is no longer leaving Nguyen and Torres wondering if they’d jumped into waters too deep.
“When we first came out, there would be days where it seemed like no one would come, and we’d just be wondering ‘are we doing the right thing?’ We’d pull up to a location, and it would just be crickets,” says Nguyen. “But it gets better and better every week. The word of mouth has really, more than anything else, been the biggest thing for us. It’s really been amazing.”
The banh mi – whose history Ngyuen and Torres have kindly summarized on the side of their truck (pictured) is a sandwich whose heritage could accurately be described as half Vietnamese and half French. The sandwich fits a culture accustomed to hot weather, be it Vietnam or Dallas. There are plenty of different kinds of banh mi, and even more opinions on how they should taste. What’s important to Nammi, though, is that they make them all taste good.
“Really, it’s supposed to taste different to everyone. A lot of people focus on the bread, so their first reaction is ‘how’s the bread?’ They could care less about what’s inside. Then some other people are like ‘No, it’s all about the meat, and the bread is just what holds it,’” says Nguyen. “It tastes different to everyone, and that’s what I love about banh mi – that it’s so different, unique and versatile.”
Clearly, Nammi’s model is a lot like the sandwich – different, unique and versatile. And while Torres and Nguyen are certainly are enjoying the evidence of their gaining popularity, there is one downside – it’s Dallas, and it’s summer.
“Of course we picked the one of the hottest summers Dallas has ever had to start a food truck. We step outside in 100-degree weather so we can cool off, and if we can’t catch a breeze in there, that’s when it gets really bad,” Torres says. “Yeah, we’re really excited about the fall.”
After a start like they’ve had, it’s simply about the future that Torres and Nguyen should be excited – and no, it certainly won’t hurt if the days are cooler than the brutal 100 degree-scorchers the city has seen this summer.
This was, after all, just supposed to be a side project.