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Monday, June 1, 2015

Pad See-Ew in Paradise: The Craziest SF Food Truck Expansion Yet

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2015 at 4:00 PM

click to enlarge The Phat Thai trucked parked in Union Plaza on a foggy Monday. - JESSICA FENDER
  • Jessica Fender
  • The Phat Thai trucked parked in Union Plaza on a foggy Monday.

When you work inside a 22-foot-by-7-foot box, there are only so many places you can go. So when the champs of San Francisco's food truck scene want to expand, they get creative.

Trucks like the perennially popular Chairman (nee Chairman Bao) put down brick-and mortar roots — see the new Tenderloin storefront that opened in April. Shops like olfactory favorite Bacon Bacon go wide, growing to three trucks, a trailer, and a cafe. And if you're Bobby Hossain, the mastermind behind Phat Thai, you get wild. Real wild.

After four-plus years as a fixture in the city’s food truck parks, the 32-year-old purveyor of homestyle Thai is expanding his brand – to a 14-room motel on Lake Tahoe’s south side.

Hossain is pushing for a grand opening of the newly remodeled Paradice Motel – soon to be redubbed “Phat Thai Paradice” – on July 4. And, in lieu of a motel restaurant, a more stationary version of his food truck will be parked out front, dishing up classics like pad thai and steamy bowls of pho at peak times throughout the year.

“Our food will be something different,” Hossain told SF Weekly. “It’s all pizza and barbecue up there now.”

click to enlarge Pictured: Not pizza or barbeque. - JESSICA FENDER
  • Jessica Fender
  • Pictured: Not pizza or barbeque.

The expansion also gives the high-energy Hossain the type of flexibility a truck alone cannot. He explained his strategy while working the pickup window in Phat Thai's narrow galley, his rapid fire cadence interrupted only by his own cries of "Kate, Pad See!" and "Pad Thai for Lindsey!"

"The food truck in Tahoe? That's weekends during high season,” Hossain says. “On days when it's not raining. It's going to be 90 degrees in Tahoe this weekend? Let's open the truck up."

The unique motel-food truck combo actually seems like a natural progression when you consider Hossain’s family history in the restaurant and hospitality businesses. His father oversaw one of the city’s most famous sky rooms, the now-shuttered Carnelian Room in the Financial District, as well as several high-end hotels.

Hossain points over his shoulder to the rear of the Phat Thai truck, where his mother stands at the griddle, expertly assembling noodle and curry dishes with lightning speed. This tiny dynamo was the chef behind the dishes at Rama Thai on Second Avenue and Geary Boulevard. The family sold the eatery in 2001.

A decade later, as food truck popularity exploded, Hossain joined a new class of aspiring restaurateurs that took to San Francisco’s streets. As he’s matured in the industry, he sees that diversity is the way to keep sane. Food trucks aren’t the easiest gig, it turns out.

click to enlarge Phat Thai proprietor Bobby Hossain backed by his grandmother (in white) and his mom at the griddle in back. - JESSICA FENDER
  • Jessica Fender
  • Phat Thai proprietor Bobby Hossain backed by his grandmother (in white) and his mom at the griddle in back.

You work with a product that spoils. You're locked into appearances sometimes months in advance. And in San Francisco, food trends can be as unpredictable as the business-deflating weather. Not to mention, the schedule can be grueling when you're a small crew.

"The last time I went on vacation was in 2010," Hossain says wryly. "I go out of town? The truck goes out of town."

Hossain plans to keep the Phat Thai truck going in the city, but he’s banking on the motel venture to give him some breathing room. He expects it will be much easier to sell hotel rooms – especially when they come with a view of the Heavenly Gondola and private beach access.

"Even if you franchise [a truck], you can only get so big," Hossain says. “This is a whole different game.” 

click to enlarge The lunch time crowd at Phat Thai. - JESSICA FENDER
  • Jessica Fender
  • The lunch time crowd at Phat Thai.

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Jessica Fender


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