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How much of the Nom Nom Truck's success is attributable to its owners being two gorgeous, brainy young Asian girls inside a food truck, and how much to the food? "I don't want there to be a misconception that the truck is about two girls on a truck," co-owner Misa Chien says sternly. She's even cute when she's mad. But to certain people, Nom Nom is about girls in a truck.
Crushes, declarations of undying love and mild stalking are common. So are the impromptu pictures — people are always asking to take photos of (and with) Chien and her business partner, Jenn Green. So are the Facebook fan clubs. So are the people who drive up from different counties, different states, to order their bánh mì — Vietnamese sandwiches made of french bread, grilled meat, pickled carrots, cucumber and cilantro. For the record, Green has a boyfriend. Chien has "no comment."
For the first three months of operation in fall 2009, back in the days when all people knew of Vietnamese food was pho, Chien drove the truck and worked inside it. Now, it's usually Green in the truck, five times a week. It's unexpected, for sure: two university-educated young women slaving away in a roach coach. Chien laughs: "In a greasy taco truck, you might not think they would even have a female in there."
"People think this is a dirty job in the trenches, but it's something we love," adds Green.
The girls, both in their mid-20s, met as undergrads at UCLA. They were members of the student "hapa" or half-Asian club. Chien, who is half Chinese and half Dutch and moonlights as a model, was a French and global studies major. Half white, half Vietnamese Green was studying biology and English. Green loved to cook. She'd bring her honey-grilled pork and lemongrass chicken sandwiches to club meetings. Chien, an entrepreneurial sort, thought they might make a business out of the food.
Did they ever.
"It sort of snowballed," says Green, who was going to be an ophthalmologist before the sandwiches took over. The first time they took the truck out, they brought bánh mì for 60 people and 200 showed up. Not long after, the girls and their truck appeared on reality TV competition The Great Food Truck Race. They didn't win, but they left a trail of satisfied stomachs and broken hearts stretching from coast to coast. People in places like Jonesborough, Tenn., where Asians comprise 7 percent of the population ("Five people, basically," Chien remembers — "Basically the staff of the town's one Chinese restaurant"), were nomming the bánh mì.
Yes, Chien and Green have cute little names for everything. Fans are "Nomsters" or "Nomnivores." The older of their two trucks — "the boy" — is called the Nominator. The new truck — "the girl" — is Nomisita. "Nom" is Internet slang for eat, or yum. It's also a play on words: Viet-nom.
Luckily, the food is delicious and the devotion is merited. Or unluckily, maybe. The killer combo of hot girls and good eats drives many a guy to marriage proposals. One proposed to Green via email. "Hi Jenn," he wrote. "Just wondering if you'd marry me. OK, bye."
Another proposed through the truck window. "Jenn, will you marry me?" he asked.
"No," Green said. "But here's your food."