10 Questions for Local Food Entrepreneur: Ali Fong
This interview was originally published on Examiner.com.
In April, founder of Chicken ‘n Rice Guys and Babson alum Ian So (B’08) asked me to moderate a food truck panel at CIC’s Venture Café. On the panel with Ian and the founder of Mei Mei Street Kitchen was Ali Fong, the woman behind famed Boston food truck Bon Me. Here, Ali shares a bit of her mindset for launching and growing Boston’s Best Food Truck.
1. What was the seed for what is now Bon Me?
It started with just one silly idea: we saw [the inaugural Boston Food Truck Challenge in 2010] and liked the sound of it, so we entered. I’d visited food trucks on the west coast, and the notion of getting food on the street for very little money was appealing.
2. What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?
That’s a very good question. There are a lot of hurdles… The constant ever-changing nature of owning a business has been quite challenging, having to morph into new roles all the time. I’d worked in a restaurant before, but never a food truck, and there were all these new things we had to learn– how to maintain the truck, navigating kitchen equipment– all the time.
3. How do you define success?
You asked me that at the food truck panel and I’ve been thinking about it… Success, I think, is about doing the right thing for the right reasons, creating stable jobs for us, and feeling like a family. Since we moved into our new commissary in September, it’s changed the dynamic of our business. Expanding is great, but being happy with what our business has become – that’s how I see success. And of course when our customers are happy and come back to our trucks and restaurants. That’s great too.
4. How do you manage failure?
I think every failure is an opportunity to improve. We’ve had lots of failures. Picking the wrong spot, having your engine die, various struggles that I’m sure all food trucks face… But in every case, we’ve always seemed to find the work-around. So maybe it’s not even a failure—if we can turn it around right away into something else.
5. How do you cope with pressure? (Any secret recipes for taking care of yourself?)
That’s something I’m still struggling with. I don’t have any wise advice. Other people have given me really wise advice – like making time for myself no matter how busy it seems. [I know that] not being able to step back is probably not good for me or the business.
6. What are you going to do next?
This summer we’re focused on trying to create a company that we feel really proud of and really happy with in terms of how it’s run. And we’re expanding, as you know, to Fort Point in the fall. Honestly, we don’t know where we’re going to be next year. That’s what’s so exciting about the food truck business. Last year, certain cities didn’t have food trucks and now they do.
7. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in the past year?
Someone told me to “Trust my instinct.” Time and again I go back to that, and find it very important.
8. Give us your advice for aspiring food entrepreneurs… in 6 words or less.
Work for another food business first.
9. You win the Oscar equivalent for your industry (James Beard, sofi, etc.). When you take the stage, who will you thank and for what?
That’s a really funny question! I would thank: my family for being pretty damn supportive of this crazy business; my husband for diving in where he had zero experience; my fantastic employees for doing amazing work every single day; and my great customers who come back for more and keep us going.
10. What about Bon Me most feeds your soul?
Getting to create something out of scratch, having a vision for how you want something to be and then taking the steps to make it happen. It feels really good.