Korilla—yeah, that’s a portmanteau of “Korea” and “grill”—has been known to Columbians for some time now as a purveyor of insanely delicious burritos, tacos, and bowls. Recently, it’s drawn national attention, winning Rookie Vendor of the Year at the 7th annual Vendy Awards and, more controversially, getting kicked off the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race for allegedly exaggerating their earnings. Bwog spoke to Korilla founder and Columbia alum Edward Song about the economy, broken generators, and the secret to happiness.
Bwog: Tell us how you got started.
Song: Korilla was started when I graduated from Columbia in 2008—the worst possible time. Back when I was at Columbia, Econ was the easiest major, but for me it was something I really wanted to study. By the time I finally graduated in ’08 (I was supposed to graduate in ’07) I’d just missed the boat for I-banking. All the jobs disappeared, and I took about a year to figure out what I was going to do, just chillin’ and enjoying life after college.
In January, I decided I wanted to continue with entrepreneurial stuff; my roommate and I started a frozen yogurt bar. That was our first foray into the food story, and we didn’t open up until April 2009. The only thing that really was a successful motivator in anything that we did was our love of food. When we first opened in Kansas City, the heart of America, it was a great success, and that’s when I decided I wanted to continue to do this. I asked myself, “What else am I addicted to?” And the answer was Korean food.
Bwog: What’s been your favorite part about running a food truck? Any crazy stories?
Song: I would say it’s just that every day’s an adventure, for better or for worse. On Friday, our generator decided it wasn’t going to work, so we had to shut down and try to get it fixed. We had bought a brand spanking new generator, so it was still on warranty. The problem is that there’s a huge backlog of people who are trying to get stuff fixed, so you usually can’t get it back on the same day. Everyone who works on the truck is our friend—we knew each other before and decided to work together. But one of our employees once decided to put diesel in the truck and caused it to break down. Then we realized the generator wasn’t working, since it feeds off the same tank as the gas. So we had to get it fixed again. Shit goes wrong all the time!
Bwog: Would you care to comment on the cheating scandal?
Song: Contractually, I am obligated not to say anything about the reality show. But I can say that I spent five long years earning an Econ-Math degree, and I’ve taken classes some of these people would have no idea about. We’re talking about simple arithmetic that Columbia grads, we can do in our sleep. And for us to allegedly make a mathematical error like that is close to impossible. And another thing is that 99.999% of all cash businesses, of all food vendors—the first thing that we do is start off with change money. We can’t expect everyone to come up with exact change, so we start out with $1500 dollars in our cash box. We make about $250-$300, depending on who’s at the cash register. If it [the amount of cash] isn’t over at the end of the day, something is up.
Bwog: So how’s the business grown?
Song: We’d expanded from one truck to three by the last week of April, and we started in October, meaning we tripled in six months. Now we’ve been looking into brick and mortar for the past month. We’re looking all over—Midtown, Downtown, Lower East Side, and definitely Columbia. I’d love to come back to Columbia, if only they’d return my calls!
Bwog: Anything you’d like to say to the Columbia community?
Song: Don’t stress out on work and studying too hard. Come out to the truck for a break and visit us. Life isn’t about studying and doing well on exams. You have to make sure what you’re doing, what you’re busting you’re ass for, makes you happy. ‘Cause at the end of the day, there’s only so much you can keep on doing if you’re not happy.
Entrepreneurship on wheels via flickr/twi-ny