Eric Chung | 3-3-3 Truck
Like many chefs, Eric’s love for food can be traced back to his childhood. In his case, it was the Boy Scouts that started him on his culinary journey. He savored the responsibility of planning for camping trips — writing the menus, shopping for ingredients, playing with fire, and cooking for his fellow campers — all of it excited him.
But Eric’s parents had other ideas. They immigrated from Taiwan and, like many Asian-American parents, they expected him to follow a more traditional academic path. Once he graduated high school, Eric’s parents and younger brother returned to Taiwan, so Eric lived alone while pursuing a civil engineering degree. It wasn’t long before Eric realized his passion was all things epicurean, not engineering. The experience of cooking and providing for himself, coupled with his Boy Scout memories, prompted Eric to ‘cook up’ a new plan — to become a master chef. Soon after, Eric dropped out of college, swapping a lucrative engineering career for a riskier culinary adventure.
After graduating from culinary school, he worked as a chef in Apple’s cafeteria. Inspired by chefs who were combining Asian and Mexican flavors, Eric’s Korean burrito quickly became legendary among the Apple crowd. To keep the Indian employees sated, he also served Indian food at least once a week. Riffing on the success of his Korean fusion food experiment, Eric started playing with the similarities between Indian and Mexican food, taking Mexican components and altering them with Indian flavors. His station was wildly popular, with many of his customers telling him they wished that they could get similar food out in the real world. Listening to his colleagues, Eric realized there was a definite need for more affordable, healthy, flavorful dining options.
Eric’s readiness to solve that problem is what prompted his venture into entrepreneurship. After piloting the success of fusing Korean, Mexican, and Indian foods at Apple’s cafeteria, he got an idea: to provide healthy flavorful food at a reasonable price. He pitched the idea to his best friend and his then-girlfriend Bonnie and, together, the threesome saw an opportunity to create something unique: three cuisines — Mexican, Korean, and Indian — with a choice of three different proteins, offered three different ways — tacos, burritos or rice bowls. Three seemed to be the magic number and the name 3-3-3 stuck.
Despite a catchy name and innovative cuisine, 3-3-3 had to get past a few hurdles. First, Eric’s best friend dropped out. Bonnie and Eric also had to get buy-in from their families who were skeptical and worried that they were just too young to start their own business. On top of convincing their families, Eric and Bonnie had to persuade someone to give them a loan. Other lenders balked, but Bonnie and Eric were able to secure a $25,000 loan with Opportunity Fund, using their truck as collateral. Eric was also able to convince his parents to lend him money and get additional financing from the company where he purchased their food truck. With the combination of three financing sources secured, 3-3-3 was up and running.
Eric’s formal culinary training sets 3-3-3 apart from other food trucks and has contributed to their success. All their food — down to their sauces — is made from scratch daily. But running a food truck takes more than great cooking. Every day, Eric and Bonnie are tasked with figuring out how to manage and grow the business. They joke that prepping and cooking is the easy part. The harder part is scheduling, finding labor, quality control, truck maintenance, and food logistics. As a newly married couple, they solve problems together. They complement each other and balance their strengths and weaknesses. Of all the traits one needs to be successful and truly happy in this line of work, being passionate is perhaps the most vital. As they lie in bed exhausted from a busy night’s dinner service, it’s their passion — for food, for serving people, for the energy of a busy kitchen — that allows Bonnie and Eric to endure even the most stressful days on the job. It’s the thing that makes them want to get back to work the next day and do it all over again. It seems to be working. Since they started their business, Eric and Bonnie have expanded 3-3-3 and now have two trucks in their fleet.
Building and growing a successful business has allowed Eric to practice his craft and achieve financial stability. But his dreams go beyond successful entrepreneurship. Ultimately, Eric wants to take his culinary career a step further by training under a Michelin-starred chef. For now, Eric and Bonnie are continuing to expand 3-3-3. Soon, they’ll be adding corporate catering. They are also thinking about opening a brick and mortar location of 3-3-3 with another loan from Opportunity Fund — and we have no doubt that, with Eric at the helm, their restaurant will earn a Michelin star or, more likely, three.