Hanu Truck bets on SoCal recipe for C’ville success

Hanu Truck serves hungry customers at the Tom Tom Founders Festival. Photo: Darren Sweeney. Hanu Truck serves hungry customers at the Tom Tom Founders Festival. Photo: Darren Sweeney.

“I’m trying to bring two things that people don’t see a lot of in Charlottesville or the East Coast,” said Patrick Kim, who has been making waves in the city’s food scene ever since he arrived in Charlottesville in February to open his Korean taco truck, Hanu.

Kim, who grew up in Southern California and moved to Charlottesville after spending two years as a sushi chef in Raleigh, N.C., said he felt the mixture of college students and the city’s reputation as a “foodie town” would be a good fit for his business. The truck’s name comes from a type of beef found in Korea, and communicates, Kim said, the sense of quality and authenticity he’s shooting for.

Hanu has already developed a following at Champion Brewing Company, where I spent a night on the truck a few week’s ago watching Kim work. Champion, which is nestled on 6th St. SE just off of Garrett St., doesn’t serve food, and owner Hunter Smith has plans to make it a venue for the city’s emerging food truck economy.

“The food truck explosion has been beneficial to the brewery, and I like to think that by giving them a platform with consistent customers that we’re contributing to the growth of the scene,” Smith said.

Smith is a customer too, ordering a couple quesadillas, one of Kim’s newest menu items, the minute the truck parked out front of his business the night I spent on the truck.

“I love Hanu Truck,” Smith said. “The food is killer, pairs well with our beers, and as a relatively young business owner, I love Patrick’s entrepreneurship and hustle. I always try anything new that goes on the menu.”

Watch Hanu Truck in action at Champion Brewing Company…

The food truck game isn’t just like working at a restaurant with no set hours. For one thing, fuel is the biggest cost, not rent. Kim spends a couple hundred dollars a week on gas for his truck and the generator that powers his mobile restaurant. He also spends another $50 to $60 a week on propane for his burners, fryer, and flat-top grill.

Despite the fuel costs and the $50,000 he spent on the cost of renovating his food truck, Kim likes his chances at making the bottom line work.

“You can go to people. You can choose your setting,” Kim said. “It’s always going to be cheaper than a restaurant.”

Hanu Truck menu
Hanu Truck’s menu. Photo: Darren Sweeney.

We arrived at Champion at 6 p.m., and Kim’s part-time helper, Olivia Mudd, was waiting for us. A senior at Buckingham County High School, Mudd takes orders while Kim works the flat top. The first step after parking is to fire up the generators and turn on the propane to get the truck at cooking heat. Mudd helps Kim prep the stations for the taco toppings and chops garnishes.

A half hour after we parked, Hanu Truck got its first order of the night: three short rib tacos, three chicken tacos, three tofu tacos, a spicy pork taco, and a tofu quesadilla.

Shayne Shiflett, a local taxi driver, said he has been following Hanu Truck on Facebook and Twitter, hoping to track Kim down.

“I’m always looking for new food to try in Charlottesville,” Shiflett said, adding that he’s always a fan of Korean barbecue.

Brian Chenault, a Champion patron, said he appreciated the fact that Hanu caters to vegetarians.

“They have tofu, which is big for me,” Chenault said.

Last Thursday night the customers were sporadic and slowed to a crawl by 8pm, which Kim said was unusual.

“My first night (at Champion), I sold out,” he said.

Kim and Mudd begin breaking down shortly after 8pm. The tally at the end of the night: 20 tacos, six quesadillas,  four mulitas. A far cry from the 100 taco mark that makes a night worth the gas money.

No sweat for Kim. The money is important, but so is enjoying yourself. So SoCal.

“A food truck is supposed to be fun. It’s definitely fun for me,” Kim said. “It should be fun for the customers, too.”–Darren Sweeney