Turning passion into profits
Woo’s move from public accountant to entrepreneur took a couple of years. She liked PwC and her job, but on nights and weekends another passion was simmering.
At the time, she was lived with two Asian-American roommates, and the three of them would often prepare food from family recipes. “Every day I would come home and they would teach me a new thing that their parents had taught them,” she says. Dumplings and pho were staples and have become mainstays of the truck’s menu.
“PwC was a fantastic firm — the best firm I could have been in,” she says. But her love of cooking was calling to her. With the food truck trend heating up, she and Lin decided to find out if they could turn their passion into profits.
With $17,000 from a Kickstarter campaign and some savings they pooled, the pair bought a $7,000 truck off Craigslist, outfitted it and hit the streets.
In 2015 they got a big break: a chance to compete on the Food Network’s sixth season of the Great Food Truck Race. The show pits seven food trucks against each other as they travel from Los Angeles to Chicago, completing various challenges along the way.
The Pho Nomenal truck broke down the first week of the competition and had to be towed. Throughout the race, Woo negotiated with hotels to park the truck overnight in their parking lots. “It was little deals like that, all over the place, that kept us in the competition,” she says. “We never expected to win.”
In the season finale, Woo and Lin faced off with another finalist – a team with five food trucks and two restaurants back home, plus a large social media following – including 40,000 followers on Instagram versus Pho Nomenal’s 800. But they didn’t have a UNC MAC graduate.
Pho Nomenal became the first East Coast team and the first all-female team to win the race.
“The show was a huge eye opener and sort of re-inspired Sunny and I, because we saw all the things we could be doing,” Woo says.
The two are planning to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant – and Woo knows that restaurant entrepreneurship is especially tough. Seventy percent of all non-franchise restaurants fail in the first three years, she notes. It seems unlikely that Pho Nomenal will fall victim to that statistic – but if it does, Woo knows she’ll have options to fall back on. “I keep up with my CPA,” she says. “I keep up with my continuing education.”