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Meet John Prom of WeChef Kitchen in Southeast Aurora

Today we’d like to introduce you to John Prom.

Thanks for sharing your story with us John. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Well, honestly where I stand today started long ago when I was a very young child. I was born in 1979 in a refugee camp on the border of Cambodia and Thailand while my family was fleeing the Khmer Rouge. I was the youngest of nine children, three of which died of starvation as my family fled the atrocity that plagued our country of Cambodia. My family was one of the lucky ones that made it across the border into a refugee camp. We lived there for approximately 1 1/2 years before we were sponsored into the United States for the chance of a better life.

There is not enough time to tell the story in its entirety, but the quick synopsis is my family was sponsored to the United States by a family here in Denver, Colorado. At that time, I was only two years old, my siblings ranging from grade school to high school age. My siblings were thrust into school and my parents and older siblings worked to find jobs that they could do while trying to learn the English language. One of my earliest memories was helping my parents and siblings clean high rise office buildings during the overnight hours. My family worked long, hard hours and saved every penny they could in the hopes of one day owning their own business.

At some point during my grade school years, my family picked up and moved to a small town in South Dakota and opened a Chinese Restaurant. Everyone in my family worked at this restaurant, and this was my first taste of working in a kitchen. I started out helping clean dishes and busing tables. By middle school age, I had worked my way up to being the deep fryer. And eventually, by the time I was in high school I was cooking the entire menu, prepping the food, and even running the restaurant from time to time when my siblings needed some well-deserved time off. Once my family got the restaurant stable and making consistent money, my oldest brother kept the restaurant and the rest of us moved to another small town in South Dakota to open another one. This process continued throughout my high school years until almost every one of my siblings owned their own restaurant.

I think my family assumed that I would graduate high school and either take over one of their restaurants or start my own restaurant, but I had bigger dreams. I wanted a college education, so instead of simply working at one of my sibling’s restaurants, I enrolled in college and earned myself a Bachelors in Business Management. Around this same time I married my high school sweetheart, we got married, and we had our first child. For many years after my wife and I graduated from college, I worked in the food industry.

I worked at a number of restaurants, ran a catering company, and was an executive chef at a private school, but over time, I was getting worn out and frustrated in not being able to have the creative freedom to cook what I wanted. My wife and I would chat about my frustrations and talk about starting a restaurant of our own, but we knew all too well what that took. The blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to build a restaurant from the ground up, and we didn’t want our life to be consumed by a restaurant like all of my sibling’s lives had been.

Well, around the peak of my frustrations, my wife worked in Downtown Denver near Civic Center Park. I got frustrated one day and took a personal day and I went downtown to have lunch with my wife and in the park in front of the building where she worked were 20 or more big, beautiful food trucks, pulled up in a circle with all the downtown folks lined up to get their lunch. It looked like fun so we ventured over and began to look at the trucks and their menus. There was so much variety, and such a fun, energetic buzz to the event.

There were so many options and the trucks were not the old ‘roach coaches’ that we had seen in past years. We couldn’t decide on any one truck so we grabbed items off a few of the trucks and sat down to eat and that was the moment that changed the path I was on. I was frustrated with my job due to the lack of creative freedom, and I was hesitant to commit to opening a restaurant due to the amount of risk involved and the inflexible nature of the industry and little did I know the answer to my problem was surrounding us that day.

I remember my wife looking at me and saying, “Look at this! Why don’t you open a food truck?!?! You’ll have all the creative freedom you want, a flexible schedule that will allow you to maintain a good work-life balance, and all we would have to do is buy a small trailer or truck and install a kitchen in it, no building, no lease, no large staff dependent upon you, it’s the perfect solution!”

Well, long story short, she won… as usual… and I have never been happier! My wife and I have been running our food truck here in Denver for five years now, and it’s just as fun today as it was the day we started! I come up with new and creative dishes whenever I want, I’ve paid off my initial investment and we are debt free, and my job is quite literally to travel around Denver to the biggest and funnest events and serve people the food I love to cook! It’s absolutely amazing and I am so very thankful that my path has led me here.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The road was never smooth. My early childhood involved fleeing my war-torn home country, my childhood was extremely meager and required me to work more than a child should to help support my family, and my early career left me feeling very dissatisfied. I wouldn’t even describe the last five year of owning my food truck smooth as it took a ton of hard work to design the truck, have it built, develop a unique menu, get our name out there and get booked at gigs, figure out all of the rules and regulations that go along with owning a food truck… none of that was smooth or easy, but if you ask me, nothing worth having comes easy.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Well, my family is Cambodian and all of my siblings married other Cambodians except me. My wife is American and we have two beautiful mixed children, so our family is a fusion of Cambodia and America if you will. We carried that into our food truck and we serve Asian-Fusion fare. We try to bring an Asian flare to dishes that are not traditionally Asian.

For instance, we make Asian Street Tacos, Asian Burritos, and Asian Nachos, which are all a fusion of Asian and Latin. We also make a Korean Philly, which is a fusion of Korean Bulgogi Steak, Korean Kim Chi, and a traditional Philly sandwich, and a Teriyaki Meatball Sub which is a fusion of Japanese Teriyaki and and Italian Meatball Sub. Our food is very unique and is not served by any other food truck in Denver. We created each and every dish on our truck from scratch and there is no other like it. The type of food we serve is unique and creative and I feel like that represents our little family of four very well.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
We have considered opening a second truck, but this year we’ve gotten into event organizing. We have found that there is a demand for a single point of contact when it comes to organizing multiple food trucks for large events. It can be frustrating for event organizers to have to deal with ten different food truck owners, and ten different personalities. We have been in the industry for five years now and have made friends with a LOT of the food trucks around town. Denver has one of the best and most supportive food truck industries around and it was such an easy transition to becoming that point of contact for many of the large event organizers with our vast experience with large events and our connections with many local food trucks.

So now, we not only run our own truck, but we serve as a food truck organizer, if you will, when large events need multiple food trucks. We simply negotiate the terms of the event, advise on the number of food trucks needed, placement, health and fire requirements, load-in/out details, etc… and then we reach out to our huge network of food truck friends to see who is available and interested in participating in the event with us. This is a new venture for us but we are loving it so far and feel like it is a benefit to not only the event organizers, but the food trucks themselves as we have their backs and are negotiating reasonable terms on their behalf, as well as educating the event organizers so that things run very smoothly. And honestly, it just feels like we are planning a party and inviting our friends to join us, it’s not a bad gig at all. 🙂

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