For Chi’Lantro owner Jae Kim, five food trucks just weren’t enough.
Kim, whose Korean and Mexican food enterprise already consisted of five food trucks, opened a new restaurant on South Lamar in January. Chi’Lantro’s first brick-and-mortar location boasts the brand’s well-known kimchi fries and bulgogi hamburger. Kim opened the restaurant’s doors Jan. 19, after five years of success in the food truck industry.
Kim said he knew he wanted to open a restaurant in a fixed location from the very beginning, but waited to invest until a prime location became available. Kim said the new location’s proximity to downtown and the convenience of a close parking lot made the location appealing.
“One of the keys to a successful restaurant is to be in a great location where it’s convenient for people,” Kim said, “So when the previous owners of the space reached out to me about taking over this location, I thought it was a great opportunity, and I had the finances.”
According to Kim, while location and parking accessibility are important, the most important factor in a restaurant’s success are the team members — many of whom he worked with prior to opening the Chi’Lantro restaurant. He said it’s humbling to work with people who are willing to invest their time and energy in an uncertain endeavor.
“Good people stuck around,” Kim said. “They saw the value in growing the business together, and you can’t be in this business without good people around you.”
Kim, who always wanted to expand the Chi’Lantro brand, said he knew he needed a better business development plan — so he hired Libby Dearing, who has experience managing food trucks and restaurants in Los Angeles. Dearing said working in a restaurant is much easier than working in a food truck. Kim agreed and said that most food truck cooks have tough personalities.
“When you take a restaurant cook to a food truck, I worry,” Kim said. “But I don’t worry when you take the food truck guy to the restaurant. [Food truck cooks are] the SEAL Team of the restaurant industry.”
Although Kim has been endorsed by Food Network and honored with a multitude of culinary awards, he said he feels best when his mom is proud of him.
“When my mom’s proud of me, that’s when I’m proud of myself,” Kim said. “All moms are the same. They like to talk a lot to their friends about their kids, and when she’s proud to talk about me amongst her friends, I feel good.“
Hungry students can find a Chi’Lantro food truck parked at the corner of 24th and Rio Grande streets Monday through Friday. Chi’Lantro often hosts charity events benefiting University organizations, and a truck parks outside of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on every game day.
“We try our best to stay involved with the University of Texas because we know every year it’s like a new customer base of new students coming in, building a whole new life for the next four years,” said Kim.
Dearing said opening a restaurant is wonderful because there are more opportunities for involvement.
“With the food truck, once you hand the food through the window, you don’t really control the experience for the customer.” Dearing said. “The restaurant gives us the opportunity to create a whole hospitable experience, with music, seating and making sure the customer is comfortable.”