The National Restaurant Association's annual trade show hits town Saturday, which always makes for an exciting, dizzying, busy couple of days. This year, however, we are literally busting at the seams with anticipation. Forget celebrity chefs ... the Kogi Korean BBQ Truck is coming!
Make that, three key people behind the Los Angeles sensation-on-wheels -- owners Mark Manguera, his wife Caroline and chef Roy Choi. Choi will be cooking his now-famous kimchi quesadillas in the Korean Pavilion.
We caught up with Choi, 39, this week as he prepped for yet another day (and night) on the streets. We wondered if his appearance at the NRA show signals an expansion into our fair city. Not quite yet, he says.
"I don't know too much about Chicago," Choi says. "I know it's a great city, got great food. I'll find out this week, I guess.
"I would do it the way Chicago wants it, whether it's through carts, a truck. You've got some great stuff out there. Great hot dogs, coffee. Good chocolate. And that's not even including fine dining chefs ... I know you've got a lot of parks, and then you have your ballparks. It would be great for it to be a truck and pull up to Wrigley Field, or Comiskey Park or Bears stadium."
So at least the guy's been thinking about us. But while there has been talk of expanding to New York, even that may have to wait, Choi says.
He and Manguera visited New York in April on a scouting mission. They went with a vision of marketing "guerrilla-style, like hip hop 1985. We really wanted to take spray paint cans and paint 'Kogi' all over the city.' "
Alas, Choi says, red tape got in their way. "There's so many permitting issues, licensing issues. They don't make the truck we need. There are no rental trucks, no inventory of trucks. So then ok, maybe be introduce it through a hot dog cart. But somebody's gotta die to get one of those licenses."
But it's all good for now. The Kogi truck has some 21,000 Twitter followers; its Web site gets 60,000 hits a day. Choi's $2 short rib tacos and $5 burritos draw hundreds willing to wait hours in line. Choi stays focused on what he's serving today, and tonight, and next week (which happens to be a Korean meatloaf lettuce taco, with dandelion/red onion kimchi. Five bucks).
"If this all disintegrates tomorrow, it's OK. We just go for it every day. That's the only way I know how to sustain it.
"What I worry about is do we have enough food for tonight? Is the food delicious? Are the staff pumped and ready? Does the truck have enough gas? That's all I think about."