Take one part hustle, two parts love of family and food combined, plus a hunk of slow-marinated Kalua pork and wrap it in a giant, wholesome burrito and you get Hula Truck. Launched in March of 2014 by Angela and Ryan Gorospe — partners in business and life and parents to three children — Hula Truck brings a fresh take on Filipino comfort food to the Bay Area with meat-centric favorites influenced by the Pacific Islands.
While the craveable menu is driven by Ryan (a native of the Philippines and life-long home cook) his wife Angela is the queen of compliance, ensuring that bills are paid on time, permits are in order and the business is steered towards growth for years to come. Hula regulars know that it’s not uncommon to find their three kids slinging street food and smiles from the truck, too.
We sat down with Angela to learn more about the family’s recipe for street food success — both at home and in the kitchen.
Tell us about your business and how you got started in the industry
My husband, Ryan, was working in the wheelchair business and was laid off after 14 years because of medical cuts. He landed another job right away, but it would’ve had him traveling 80% of the time. We didn’t want that for the kids. He came home one day and said, “let’s open a food truck.” I said, “no way, you’re crazy.” We needed to do research, create a business plan, and see what other trucks were out there. Ryan wanted to cash out our 401K to buy a truck. I was like, what are we going to do to care of our kids?
While all this was happening, I was reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg for my book club, and there was one line that really spoke to me. It said, “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Those words changed my whole perspective. I went from saying no to saying let’s do it. It was the best decision we ever made. After just 3 or 4 months, we made back everything we had pulled out of our 401K and bought our second truck.
The following December, when Ryan was bored and browsing Craigslist, and he found this cute little red truck down in LA and asked me if we could get it. We started talking about the concept and what it could be. That’s how Hula’s Sweet Treats was born.
How has running a business shaped your family — or changed the way you think about business?
Coming into it was a true family affair from the beginning — right down to our business model. If you go to Filipino person’s house for family event, the first thing they want you to do is eat. We wanted to portray the same mentality on the truck. When people come to our truck they feel like they’re family. This is ingrained in all of our staff. We also focus on providing big portions that are filling and satisfying. We never want people to leave hungry!
Starting a mobile food business has been a crazy ride. Ryan and I are not entrepreneurs by training. We just had an idea and we rolled with it. Our family has definitely had to adjust. There are days when Ryan works 18 hours. But on the flip side, our kids get to see the return on investment of all of our hard work. Like, our teenage son works on the truck sometimes. They’re part of the business’ success too.
What’s your personal favorite item on your menu, and how do you make it?
Our “Bayrito” is our signature item. It’s a flour tortilla filled with a choice of meat, tater tots, pico de gallo, shredded cheese, sour cream and our special Hula sauce.
Our lumpia is pretty special, too. It’s made using a secret recipe that only two people in our family know. My mother-in-law actually hand-rolls lumpia for us by the thousands each week. She’s retired, but the money she’s made from the family business allowed her to build a new house for herself in the Philippines.
What do you see as the biggest obstacle to your business’ success?
Honestly, as much as I love the Bay Area, all of the permits, the business licenses, the formalities — it really hinders your bottom line. It feels like you’re always paying something, or filing paperwork. A lot of people don’t realize how much of that is part of the business. It’s this balance of needing to be flexible, making sure you’re compliant and also serving great food. We’ve structured it so that I handle compliance and Ryan takes care of ensuring the quality of the food and customer service. It’s easy to sling Bayritos all day, but there’s a harsh reality to the business side of mobile food. Off the Grid has walked us through a lot of it, but having to learn on the fly can be hard as a small business.
What single piece of advice would you offer to someone starting out in the mobile food industry?
The biggest thing I’ve learned personally is to not be afraid. Ryan had no fear. But I was like, we have a family — what if we go broke? If we hadn’t taken the chance, we wouldn’t be on this fun adventure as a family. Don’t be afraid. Take a chance.
Truck Manager Pam with Angela and Ryan’s daughter.
Have you had an experience where your food played a role in building community or bringing people together?
For the past four years, on Christmas Day, our family goes to St. James Park in San Jose and serves 500 meals to people in the park. In the last few years we started partnering with my son’s Boy Scouts group to deliver clothes, sleeping bag and toiletries to the homeless. One year it was raining really bad. It was an important lesson for our kids that we got to go home to a warm, cozy house while people less fortunate were outside. It was like, this is why we work so hard to provide for our family.
We do a lot of large events with my son’s high school, too. At one event we had five of my son’s friends who grew up together working for us as cashiers and runners. It was amazing to see and such a great way to give back to the community.
What does “success” mean to you?
For us, it’s really a tug of war between growth and work-life balance. We have a 16-year-old, a 10-year-old and a brand new baby. I have a full-time job that I work as well. So, it’s really about doing what makes us happy. We’ve talked about opening a brick and mortar restaurant — Ryan dreams about having a breakfast spot — but it’s not necessarily something we want in the near future. For now, we’re just enjoying this ride we’re on and know that there’s more to come.
What excites you the most about the mobile food industry?
With a brick and mortar restaurant, you have to wait for people to come to you. But with mobile food, you go to where the party’s at. We’ve done events with Off the Grid — like Winter Walk — where people are out shopping, dancing and enjoying each other’s company. We also do a lot of events at Shoreline Amphitheatre, which is a concert environment where everyone’s in a good mood. It’s fun to be out in the community. To be at the party.
Look for Hula Truck at locations around the Bay Area, and at Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center on Fridays from 5-10pm. To bring the Hula Truck experience to your next private event, get in touch at Off the Grid Catering.