Adam Lee was working at a construction site at Stanford University when he realized there was something more important than punching the clock everyday: spending time with his young daughter.
Although he technically had a good job, he never really was excited about going to work.
“I just got tired of following someone else’s direction,” said Lee, 34, of San Francisco.
So he followed his own heart and, ultimately, his own sense of food. Now, Lee is the owner of Adam’s Grub Truck, a fledgling food truck company that he started this year—based out of South San Francisco and San Bruno—that specializes in gourmet sandwiches with an Asian flair.
Very quickly, he has had to learn the ropes of running his own business. But it’s all worth it, according to Lee, because this is his American Dream.
As a new entrepreneur, Lee has already become a risk-taker by starting a business while the economy is still slowly recovering from the 2007 recession. He has also become a rarity, as the number of job seekers who have started businesses has significantly declined since the beginning of the recession, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.
As of July, there were 8.6 million self-employed Americans, down from nearly 10 million in June 2007, and the number of self-employed workers has continued to decline throughout the recovery, which began in July 2009.
But Lee is confident that his business will be successful because he believes in it wholeheartedly and he picked an industry—gourmet food trucks—that has been steadily on the rise in California.
Part of his motivation for starting a food truck company came from his dad, who started his own electrical business in 1993. Lee admired his father’s work ethic, but he always regretted the fact that his dad missed out on a lot of his growing up because he was working all of the time.
Because of his self-starter attitude, he decided to start a food truck with some friends after working near a cafeteria as a quality control manager at a construction site at Stanford. His co-workers didn’t like the food choices being offered at the cafeteria and they were craving some dim sum. That’s when the idea clicked.
“I thought, ‘Imagine if there was a dim sum truck close by,’” Lee said. “At the time, there were none around the Bay Area.”
Unfortunately, the dim sum truck idea didn’t work out, and Lee and his friends parted ways. But the Asian slaw he created was a hit, he realized, so he took that dish and eventually incorporated it into his menu for his current food truck business.
That experience was a lesson, and Lee never looked back.
“Everything I’ve had to do, I’ve always had to do it myself,” he said, reflecting back to when all he had was an idea. “It’s a challenge, but it makes me happy.”
Now that he is out on his own, every day is a hustle. But each day brings new opportunities to perfect his food truck.
Already, his sandwiches have been creating a little buzz in the area. His mouth-watering sandwich, The Drunken Master, is always a hit with customers—pulled pork with barbecue sauce, Muenster cheese and jalapeños, topped with Asian slaw on a brioche bun.
Lee served up a bite-size version of The Drunken Master at the chamber’s in October, and it was a hit there as well.
“His idea of fusion cuisine in bite-size sliders was a clever idea,” said Jessica Evans, CEO of the San Bruno Chamber of Commerce. “I hope that movable food vendors can grow here. I think that’s innovative.”
That sandwich is an example of the creativity Lee infuses in every other dish on the menu. Fried chicken, pulled pork and fried egg are common toppings. But as Lee has been adapting to his customers’ tastes, he’s been trying new things such as adding spam, seaweed, Tapitio hot sauce and even shitake mushrooms to his menu. He even has plans to create a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich, one of his daughter’s favorite foods.
“I’m trying to appeal to the masses,” Lee said on a recent afternoon while his truck was parked outside the Genentech building in South San Francisco.
Most of all, Lee said, he has been working on perfecting his customer service approach. Instead of just blithely taking people’s orders, he’ll engage with each customer to make them feel welcome.
“I’ll say, ‘Hey, how’s it going? Then I’ll dump some Halloween candy on them,” Lee said. “That’s what it’s all about. The food can speak for itself. But if you give them good customer service, they’ll remember you.”
With that added pizzazz to his already unique menu, Lee is hoping to make Adam’s Grub Truck a mainstay at places like Genentech, YouTube and Walmart.com—where gourmet food trucks already cater to trendy employees—as well as other hotspots throughout San Francisco and San Mateo County.
Creating that social aspect around food has been one of the keystones in the growth of the gourmet food truck business in the state and throughout metropolitan areas across the country, said Matt Geller, CEO of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, which represents 130 food truck vendors.
“You can park four food trucks together,” Geller said. “And, all of a sudden, you’ve taken an unused space and turned it into a social gathering where people want to be.”
At the end of the day, Lee realizes that for the first time in his adult life, he enjoys going to work. That translates into freedom for Lee because, after parking his food truck at the end of every day, he can enjoy what matters most: his daughter.
“To me, the American Dream is not about being rich or famous,” Lee said. “It’s about wanting to be a coach for my daughter. I want to be that dad that’s always around.”
To find out where Adam's Grub Truck will be serving up meals next, visit www.adamsgrubtruck.com.