Before the restaurant, even before the food truck, there is the home kitchen, the starting point for most culinary businesses. One North Hollywood couple has opened theirs up to the public. Husband-and-wife team Nguyen and Thi Tran are now operating Starry Kitchen from the back door of their kitchen apartment, serving Pan-Asian dishes on a first-come, first-serve basis for $5 a plate. Thi Tran, wife, culinary entrepreneur and self-proclaimed "Kitchen Ninja" creates globally-inspired homemade grub from tacos to burgers to noodle bowls to rice plates.
After Thi got laid off from her advertising job back in April, she turned to friends for advice. Her love of cooking, addiction to FaceBook (she used her food photographs as her profile pictures) had her friends salivating over their computers and encouraging her to take on a new career. Operation Starry Kitchen was born.
"While we say we do Pan-Asian [Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean thus far], it's kind of what flavors tickle our fancy. We've had a pretty wide repertoire thus far already, including 10 meat-braised dishes, 7 veggie, 8 sides, and homemade sauces custom-made for that particular dish" says Nguyen Tran, husband, line cook, full time dishwasher and "kitchen slave."
Serving only two days a week, for a few hours, or until they sell out, their simple menu continues to bring customers to the door, hoping to grab a plate before they run out of food. With no marketing budget, their social media savvy presence on Twitter, Facebook and blog, spreads the word about their menu for the day. From word of mouth recommendations to reviews on Yelp, the line out their kitchen door grows longer by the day and it's standing room only in their tiny back door patio.
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The Starry Kitchen menu serves only one dish on any given day; it's served in three different ways. One week was Chinese Spiced Hamburgers and the other, Vietnamese Braised pork served up as either tacos, burritos, or a Vietnamese Banh Mi style sandwich. There are also vegetarian alternatives, like tofu and young jackfruit.
If business becomes any more brisk, Nguyen and Thi Tran have plans "We think it's probably time to join the taco truck wars."
Starry Kitchen: 11049 McCormick St., #205, North Hollywood. Sundays 12 p.m. - 3 p.m.; Wednesdays 6 p.m. - 9 p.m. Follow Starry Kitchen on Twitter @starrykitchen or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diane Cu also co-writes White on Rice Couple with her partner.