When restaurant consultants Robert Zuetell and USC graduate Shaunn Ng decided to open a food truck in Orange County, they had one goal in mind: To create something unique, something that had not been served up by all the other Korean BBQ food trucks.
In an industry now saturated with food trucks roaming every city in Southern California and accessible via Twitter or Facebook, Zuetell, his wife Gina, and Ng were hoping to introduce a new spin on a fresh idea.
Ng created a business plan for a Singaporean restaurant as part of his MBA thesis at USC. Zuetell, a self-proclaimed “trend forecaster,” had the street smarts to start a business.
After a corporate layoff, Ng decided that he didn’t want to go back to the cubicle, so he did what any smart entrepreneur would do: He gave up his Singaporean citizenship in order to obtain the license to open an OC food truck fashioned after traditional “street hawkers,” or street food a la Singapore.
Then the epiphany came.
“You’re like a man without a nation,” Zuetell told Ng after he abandoned his citizenship. And that’s how they came up with the name. “A little Popeye, a little Pac-Man” and a whole lot of Singapore: Chomp Chomp Nation was born on Oct. 10, 2010, the Year of the Tiger.
The menu offers dishes like Kaya (coconut-stuffed French toast with a tropical fruit medley), a Singapore-style “Sloppy Joe,” Singapore satay skewers, and their most popular, the Singapore chili-crab slider seasoned with ginger, lemongrass and kefir lime, served with Tiger Slaw and root chips.
“I think it is the right timing to launch a unique exotic brand promoting Singapore food in America,” Ng said. “American consumers as a whole are opening up to more ethnicity (sic) food and Singapore food is still not well known here.”
Patrons can expect to pay $3 for an appetizer or dessert and up to $7 for a main dish, which Zuetell describes as “gourmet street hawker favorites with an American twist.”
“Even though the price is a little more, people still pay the extra $2,” Zuetell said.
Chomp Chomp Nation will be 90 days old this week. They line up and compete with trucks like Bacon Mania, Spudrunners Gourmet Fry Truck and Sushi on Wheels.
“It’s healthy competition,” Zuetell said. There are six main OC food trucks. “You have to start out as the little guy. Three months ago I was the little guy.”
Now their truck, painted as a striped orange and black tiger (as in the Year of the Tiger) complete with a face, whiskers and a tail, parades around Orange County stopping at places like the Irvine Farmer’s Market, Bootlegger Brewery (“The food goes good with beer,” Zuetell said) and downtown Fullerton.
On Tuesday nights, Chomp Chomp Nation sets up on Amerige Avenue off Harbor in Downtown Fullerton from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Kathleen Linson, 25, a public health graduate student at CSUF, spent time studying at the National University of Singapore. She said the food has “an authentic flavor with an American twist.”
“It makes me nostalgic,” said Linson. “I used to eat Kaya every morning for breakfast.”
Kaya is a coconut jam usually spread on bread.
The only downside?
“The price is a little steep, but I’ll definitely be coming back,” Linson said.
Chomp Chomp Nation can be found on Twitter and Facebook at Twitter.com/ChompChompTruck and Facebook.com/ChompChompNation.