Started from the bottom now we're...?
But let’s back up to 2008. The economy was straight crushing businesses of every ilk, especially aspiring restaurateurs. Though food trucks and carts already existed (the industry was dominated by immigrant owners offering Middle Eastern options on the East Coast and taco trucks on the West), few cities were making new licenses available. But trucks were -- and still are -- a far cheaper alternative to opening a restaurant, costing anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000 versus $500,000 for a physical space.
Right before Kogi hit the streets of LA, around October 2008, Harvard MBA Ayr Muir found himself a grandfathered food truck license in Cambridge, Massachusetts and set up a small lunch-truck operation on the MIT campus. His goal was to test-out menus for a healthy fast-food concept before landing in a physical space. Dubbing it the Clover Food Lab, Muir ran the truck for about eight weeks, collecting feedback and followers with his meatless soups, salads, and sandwiches, but shut it down in order to search for a permanent location -- only to realize he had a long road ahead of him. “For us, it was a landlord thing,” he says. “Being a little startup company, it was really hard to get into a space. You’re fighting to get their attention, not even returning calls if they haven't heard of you. It might have been indirectly due to the economy in that [landlords] were being more conservative. If the economy had been better, this would have been different. But we just couldn’t get space.” Meanwhile, the customers he’d gained through the truck clamored for it to return. He reopened and ran it for two more years before finally landing an actual restaurant.