CYPRESS Calif. Baja Fresh Mexican Grill chief executive David Kim and investors have launched another new franchise venture — but this time with wheels.
Kim and investors have acquired the Calbi Fusion Tacos and Burritos, a mobile vendor truck concept born in Los Angeles earlier this year offering tacos, burritos and quesadillas with Korean-style beef short ribs. Menu prices range from $2 to $7, and the trucks publicize their daily street routes on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.
The Calbi truck made its debut this weekend as a franchise concept at the West Coast Franchise Expo in Los Angeles after completing the franchise registration in California last week. The expo runs through Sunday at the Los Angeles Convention Center
Though many of the growing number of modern food truck operators have said they planned to franchise, Calbi is one of the first in Los Angeles to offer the concept to potential operators.
Bloggers have long pointed out the similarities between Calbi and the hugely popular Kogi food truck, which is credited with pioneering the current mobile food craze with its Korean tacos.
John Lee, president of The Nice Taco Inc., which founded Calbi, said Kogi’s “hard-core followers” may see Calbi as a “second runner,” but the newer concept has developed its own clientele that appreciates the brand’s differentiated menu.
“Think of it like Pepsi to Coke,” he said. “People can taste the difference.”
Lee’s father-in-law, Ok Ju An, started the truck in May with his wife, Insook An, who developed the recipes based on traditional Korean dishes. Ok Ju An now serves as chief operating officer.
The first version of the truck was often seen as very similar in color design to the Kogi truck.
To dispel confusion, Lee said the Calbi truck has a new design and logo that he said would further distinguish the brand as something entirely different from Kogi -- aside from the common theme of Korean-Mexican food.
Alice Shin, a spokeswoman for Kogi, declined to comment on Calbi’s franchising plans, except to note that members of the Kogi team did not help Calbi get its start, as had been reported by some food bloggers. “We’ve never had a working relationship with Calbi,” she said.
Shin also said Kogi officials currently have no plans to franchise.
Lee described Calbi’s franchising operation as a joint venture between The Nice Taco and Fresh Enterprises, which operates and franchises the Baja Fresh and La Salsa Mexican Grill chains, along with franchising Sweet Factory candy shops and Canyons Burger Co.
Canyons is a two-unit better-burger concept based in Atlanta that Kim and investors acquired recently through a newly created company called Growth Concepts, which was described as a “new restaurant incubator.”
Gene Savage, director of franchising for the four brands, said the Calbi truck concept will appeal to franchisees looking to capitalize on the tidal wave of interest in mobile street food, as well as those looking for low start-up costs.
To get a truck on the street, Savage estimated costs will range between $250,000 to $275,000. Candidates must have a net worth or liquid cash of about $100,000 to $150,000, he said, and lease-to-own financing options are available for the trucks.
Royalties are 5 percent and the initial franchising fee is $50,000. Training by the franchisor includes help with the licensing and permits required for carving out a “territory” wherever the franchisee chooses to operate, Savage said.