For Josh Burgoyne and Korn Suom, 2020 started off gloriously. The couple married in January and embarked on a three-week tour of Southeast Asia.
They returned home to Rhode Island in time for a pandemic.
Despite the odds, their three-year old Ming’s Asian Street Food truck business is doing OK. In May they hope to open their Sando takeout window at their home base of Lorraine Mills at 500 Mineral Spring Ave., in Pawtucket..
The couple is upbeat as they talk about the year and their food, inspired by Suom’s Cambodian roots. Business is down by 60% but they’ve been helped by disaster funds that helped them adapt their business due to COVID-19, they said.
“We stopped traveling to large events, but built a new customer base on online ordering and takeout,” said Burgoyne. “We made it so we were where people were and they could pick up orders they placed online.”
Through a combination of Ming’s being at Long Live Beerworks in Providence and by the Providence pedestrian foot bridge, they were able to feed those in the area, and supply takeout to online customers.
He said they could more easily adapt since they don’t have the same overhead as a restaurant and they run the truck themselves with one part-time employee.
When back in the parking lot at Lorraine Mills, they often set up between Crooked Current Brewery and White Dog Distilling, a popular spot.
If you haven’t been to Lorraine Mills, it’s become quite the food destination, from the still newish Miss Lorraine Diner to aanoll the artisan food and drink businesses taking up inside the old mill building.
Burgoyne said Chi Kitchen Kimchi being based at Lorraine Mills has attracted those looking for commercial kitchen space as well. They’ve been renting space at what he called “the unofficial incubator” for young businesses.
Ming’s has also collaborated with another tenant, baker Morgan Gray of Whisk Me Away. Think fried chicken sandwiched between a sliced glazed doughnut.
“It’s good to be around other like-minded entrepreneurs,” Burgoyne said.
Their takeout space, named Sando, slang for sandwich, will be open at the mill four or five days a week.
“It’s an exciting time on the Providence scene with popup vendors making new inroads,” Burgoyne said. “There are lots of exciting new things happening.”
That they are part of the culinary scene is not what each expected.
Burgoyne and Suom both grew up in Cranston and went to Cranston High School East together. It was only after college that they became a couple. Suom was a preschool teacher and Burgoyne worked for the state Department of Environmental Management and as a consultant.
Burgoyne was a home brewer thinking about a job at a brewery when he came upon a solar-powered food trailer on Craigslist.
A new idea was born, and they signed a six-month lease for the equipment.
“It’s kind of comical now,” Burgoyne says. “It only had a grill.”
Suom said she wasn’t looking to be in the food industry, “But I loved cooking.”
As first-generation American, the daughter of parents who fled Cambodia, she grew up cooking with her mom. When they went to worship at their Buddhist temple, they always brought a potluck dish to share and she helped her mother and aunt cook.
Burgoyne’s interest in a food business was all it took for her to drop her plans for a master’s degree in education. Then they caught a break and were able to buy the Friskie Fries food truck.
“It lit a spark in me,” Suom said. “I told him, ‘Let’s work on this together.’ “
And they did. But Suom admits she took over where the food was concerned. Even now, the two make competing dishes to see what their customers like better.
She always wins.
Suom’s Asian-inspired dishes bring unique flavors to Banh Mi, fried chicken, sandos (sandwiches) and their version of poutine called Pho-Tine.
She creates dishes with the Southeast Asian style of salty, sour, sweet and spicy. That’s what makes the gravy for the Pho-Tine something special.
With toppings such as fresh jalapenos, lime, cilantro and fried garlic with neutral mozzarella curd, her Pho-Tine “Tastes like a bowl of Pho,” the southeast Asian soup. It’s their most popular item.
It will be part of the upcoming Poutine Indulgence Competition with the Museum of Work & Culture.
At the heart of it, “Ming’s is the intersection of Asian food and comfort food,” said Burgoyne.
It ranges from panko fried chicken thighs with pickles and spicy mayo to Korean Hot Chicken Sando with Ming’s gochujang hot sauce, carrot/daikon pickles, house bleu cheese sauce and scallions.
Ming means auntie, a term of respect within the family hierarchy, said Suom. Her goal is for customers to feel the same warmth she does eating at her Auntie’s house.
When they first reopened during the pandemic, they did it with a “pay what you can” model. They also were able to feed first responders and hospital workers with support from the public.
Most weeks you can find them at Lorraine Mills (Thursday and Friday starting at 4:30 p.m.) or Long Live Beerworks in Providence (Saturday and Sunday at noon).
They do catering and will be back at Roger Williams Park for Food Truck Fridays this spring.
You can look up their schedule or order, at mingsri.com.