Truckin' with Road Stoves: LA's Street Food Redefined

Until recently, food trucks were were more convenient sources of fast food than popular dinner destinations. Typically used by taco vendors and construction sites, food trucks made lunch possible for working people in a city that doesn't tend to cater to those on foot. Road Stoves, the project of high school buddies Josh Hiller and Morris Appel, launched the latest generation of food trucks when they agreed to help their friend Mark start his Korean taco truck, Kogi, less than a year ago.

"One of the reasons Kogi was so successful is because it was a phenomenal, new product, and it reached a new audience," Hiller says. Road Stoves gets 40-50 food truck proposals a day from all over the country, but right now they rent vehicles exclusively to entrepreneurs in Los Angeles. Some of their current clients include Dosa Truck, 5 Marked, Baby's Badass Burgers, Barbie's Q, and Nom Nom.

Hiller and Appel with the women behind Baby's Badass Burgers
Hiller and Appel with the women behind Baby's Badass Burgers
Road Stoves

Why are people in Los Angeles drawn to the idea of chalking their meals up to chance? What is it about food served from trucks at curbside that can be found only by tracking a Twitter trail or trusting the foodie word-of-mouth? "Food trucks are popular in Los Angeles now because of the recession," Hiller says. "People are looking for cheaper food. And the weather too--you can always stand outside." There's also the fact that you can decide whether you want to eat your Korean tacos in a parking lot in the San Gabriel Valley, or alongside bar hoppers on a corner in Hollywood.

In the belly of the Nom Nom
In the belly of the Nom Nom
Nom Nom via Flickr

While catering to LA's car culture, Road Stoves' food truck movement still seems to strive for environmental consciousness; with many trucks rejecting the notion that fast food has to be junk food, or associated with large amounts of packaging and waste. Their businesses serve up Indian food, Korean tacos, banh mi and organic salads, Nom Nom uses compostable corn cups and donates their leftover bread to the Midnight Mission.

Hiller, an entertainment lawyer by trade, takes care of the legal side of Road Stoves, making sure trucks don't park too close to restaurants and that business runs smoothly on board. There aren't too many rules about where the trucks can and can't park, says Hiller. The key is figuring out who they are catering to and where those customers are. Food trucks are a family business for Appel, whose father has been renting out a majority of the catering and taco trucks around the city for years, managing up to two hundred trucks at a time.

Hiller and Appel's responsibility goes beyond just renting out trucks. They have relationships with locations and private buildings. In general, Hiller says, they have a pretty good relationship with restaurants because they aren't trying to compete. "We eat out all the time," he says. "We do our part to support brick and mortar restaurants." This year, Road Stoves paired up with DineLA to kickoff Restaurant Week with Eric Greenspan of The Foundry on Melrose, Anisette Brasserie's Alain Giraud, John England from Rosa Mexicano, Lawry's Walter Eckstein and Dakota at the Hollywood Roosevelt's Jason Johnston all cooking aboard an original Road Stoves truck on the streets of LA.

When asked if he had any advice for people interested in starting their own food truck, Hiller says what matters is that your idea is new. "If you want to start a Korean taco truck, just forget it," Hiller says. "Be different. Forget Twitter, that whole formula is done. Be new, be creative, you need a new product. Kogi is the benchmark for all food trucks to come."

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