On any given day, the line of customers for Señor Sisig---a Filipino fusion food truck operating in San Francisco, California, featuring the favorite Pinoy sizzling dish---spans a few yards and never seems to get any shorter. “We serve about 150 to 200 orders over a three-hour lunch shift, and about the same for dinner,” estimates Evan Kidera, 31, co-owner of Señor Sisig together with chef Gilster Payumo, 33.
The San Francisco Bay Area is home to nearly half a million Filipinos, “which we initially wanted to target,” says Kidera. When Señor Sisig started, “about 80% of our customers were Filipinos, 20% were other nationalities. Then, after three months, it was 50-50, then 40-60. Now, our customers are spread across the board,” he adds.
Kidera himself is actually of Japanese-Caucasian descent. But as a business and MBA graduate from San Francisco State University, he spotted the opportunity in food trucks after sampling a few during a Los Angeles trip in 2009. “’SanFo’ is a ‘foodie city’ with a diverse community,” says Kidera, “but the street food scene was nothing, maybe about 10 food trucks total, selling the usual Mexican tacos and burritos.”
This didn’t discourage Kidera, who soon partnered with high school friend Payumo to start their first business. “I was still taking up my MBA and Gil was working in the Marriott, so the starting process—business plans, finding a food truck, learning the laws and regulations, not just in SF but in the surrounding counties—was slow,” he admits.
But Kidera knew having a job was limited and would take a while to move up. “And coming from food backgrounds—my family was in restaurants and Gil’s owned a Filipino market—we were both excited about a food business from the beginning.”
Unfamiliar to familiar
The partners decided to focus on Filipino cuisine, which isn’t considered one of the main Asian cuisines but something they wanted to bring to the masses. By putting sisig in something Americans normally eat (like tacos, burritos, and other Latin dishes), Kidera says “our underlying goal is for people to also try Filipino food on other occasions, as well.”
Payumo, being a Filipino-American by way of Pampanga, already had a family sisig recipe he grew up making, which he and Kidera further refined. They used twice marinated grilled pork shoulder instead of the usual fried pig’s head, and offered chicken and sweet tofu sisig as well.
Señor Sisig took one and a half years of planning and roughly $60,000 (about P2.5 million) of investment before it opened for business in June 2010. This proved to be the perfect time, as Off the Grid, a now-famous food truck event organization, was also established at that time. “(Off the Grid) knew getting permits as a group would be easier than as an individual, so they started with about five to 10 different food trucks, and we were one of them,” remembers Kidera.
“A Filipino food truck? Sisig?” was initial reaction to their business, he adds. It intrigued Filipinos because although they knew about sisig, “it was never the main dish in a restaurant. But it made sense and they really enjoyed it.”
Thanks to a strong online presence—where its star dish is explained to the unfamiliar—and expanding fan base, Señor Sisig has been growing well the past two years, and still a well-loved vendor at Off the Grid and other San Francisco locations. Now with 12 part-time and full-time employees, the business received the ‘Best Fusion award in SF Weekly’s Best Food Truck 2012.
The partners also purchased their second food truck in June 2012. “Food trucks are a good business because they are comparatively low-investment and low-risk, and give the opportunity to move around if a particular location doesn’t do too well,” notes Kidera. “We move at our own pace.”
Main photo shows Evan Kidera (left) and Chef Gilster Payumo (right).
Photos courtesy of Señor Sisig
This article was originally published in the September 2012 issue of Entrepreneur magazine. Subscribe to the print or digital version here.