A Moveable Feast
Mark Manguera ’02 is one of the founders of Kogi Korean BBQ, the wildly popular fleet of mobile restaurants.
What can an entrepreneurial spirit and a craving for a good taco get you? For Mark Manguera, it led to launching Kogi Korean BBQ, a high-end “restaurant-on-wheels” that grossed $2 million its first year and has become a foodie phenomenon throughout Southern California.
Manguera, who earned a degree in business management from the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics in 2002 followed by a degree from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, envisioned the concept after a night of clubbing with friends.
“Wouldn’t it be great to put Korean barbecue into a taco, put it in a truck and park it in front of the club we just came out of ?” Manguera asked a friend as they ate at a nearby taco truck.
In 2007, he took his idea to the streets. With $3,000 and a loaned truck, he co-founded Kogi Group Corporation with Caroline Shin and L.A. chef Roy Choi ’94 (B.A. philosophy).
Despite initial misgivings from friends and family, their four barbecue trucks – named Naranja, Azul, Verde and Roja – now dot the Southland on any given night and attract diners willing to wait hours for Korean barbecued beef in a tortilla.
The menu is a fusion of Korean and Mexican food that reflects the multicultural roots and favorites of its creators. Tacos are $2, burritos are $5, and diners choose from fillings like short rib, spicy pork, chicken and tofu.
Dubbed “cultishly popular” by the Associated Press, Kogi was named among “The Creativity 50” this year by Advertising Age, designated one of Bon Appétit’s “Hot 10” in 2009, and profiled in Newsweek, Time, Entrepreneur and the New York Times, among others.
But it’s not just the food that has earned Kogi acclaim; what has heralded headlines worldwide is their use of social media – Twitter in particular – which allows these entrepreneurs to tweet their location, menu and schedule to more than 70,000 Twitter followers.
It’s a marketing strategy that has spawned dozens of copycats throughout the Southland. But Manguera doesn’t sweat it, nor is he bothered by the industry’s “roach coach” reputation. “We’re driven by entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. “And that spirit continues to keep pushing the boundaries of an industry that may be frowned upon.”