Using Twitter to find some eats
By Josh Elmer
I’ve got three hours to get to the Kogi taco stand before it moves from its location in Burbank. Two things you might be asking yourself: What taco stand has Kogi for a name? And why is it moving? The answer is it’s a Korean/Mexican fusion restaurant specializing in Korean barbecue tacos. It’s three taco trucks that move to different locations every three hours or so. Until 9 p.m., it’s parked at Olive & Victory until it moves on to catch the crowd leaving the bar scene in Venice.
If it sounds like an idea cooked up by two drunken people grabbing a late night snack, it’s because it is. The idea was born when Mark Manguera’s sister-in-law Alice Shin proposed the idea of Korean barbecue on a taco. They bought some trucks and started this business. They use online word of mouth perpetuated by Twitter as their marketing tools. Hungry patrons log on, find the location and set out in pursuit of their food.
On the bus, deep in thought, I’m trying to understand the appeal of a restaurant that is mobile and twittering. The thing I keep thinking about is the connection between a mobile food source and human nature. You have to hunt down this food; we are regressing to a time when we all had to search out and hunt down a meal. Kogi is more than just a good snack–it’s a challenge to its customers. It combines late-night eating and a technologically fueled game of hide and seek. It is also symbolic of Los Angeles–a trendy scene filled with racially diverse food attracting anyone techno-savvy enough to find the truck.
“Kogi has become its own beast–its head chef Choi will admit as much,” writes Emma Gallegos in the Pasadena Star-News. “It’s spawned its own culture–Kogi Kulture–through blogs and music and the crowd that gathers to greet the truck at its stops and wait long into the night.”
Finally I arrive at the intersection and see my reward: It’s a taco truck with a 40-person line framed by Kimberly Jo election signs. The smell from the people walking away with their food makes my eyes glassy. My meal is in sight. Roughly 60 people are gathered around the truck–20 waiting for their food and 40 others waiting to order. Kogi uses Twitter and its constant movement creates a secret club experience; walking up to the truck, you feel like you are discovering a secret that nobody else knows. When you arrive at the Kogi truck you are in the know and you feel like you are enjoying a secret snack.
I step into line and the person in front of me tells me it’s 8:45 and they’re not allowing anymore people in line. He is a trendily dressed Asian American in high school or college.
“This is my favorite Korean food in town. I should know; I’m Korean,” he said. “I try to catch this truck any time it’s close to me.”
The crowd eats burritos and tacos ravenously around the truck, while others walk back to their cars. Most are in groups–many who chit-chat in line about how they heard about it or when they had it before. The result is Angelinos who devote themselves to traveling
around and following this taco truck like it’s the Grateful Dead. There are even Kogi songs and tributes on YouTube.
The food delivers, or so I’m told, but more than that Kogi has found a use for Twitter that is beyond simple narcissism. It almost becomes a tool for guerrilla marketing. Twitter functions as the person who spreads where the party is. It creates a buzz for this restaurant and it works; the stand attracts hundreds of people whenever it parks and has more than 12,000 followers on Twitter. Kogi’s success is truly remarkable.
Andrew Romano of Newsweek writes, “Taco trucks, of course, are nothing new. Neither are upscale vehicles serving fancier fare to hip foodies. But thanks to the unprecedented speed and scale of its success–crowds often exceed 600 people–Kogi has already transcended its roots as a gourmet gastromobile and emerged, through a combination of cuisine, context, attitude and Internet alchemy, as something far more interesting: America’s first viral restaurant.”
This Twitter-based marketing plan could expand to other restaurants. Posting daily specials at regular immobile restaurants could be another effective combination of Twitter and the restaurant industry. Tweeting restaurants–especially mobile food trucks–could very well become commonplace.
Josh Elmer is a senior cinema and photography major. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.