The smell of beef, onions and star anise spices fill the air along with the sounds of vegetables, noodles and pork cooking in the corner. The chefs are Sunny Lin, a graduate of NC State, and Sophia Woo, a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill. Their specialty is cooking dumplings, but their workplace is no ordinary restaurant kitchen — it is the inside of a metal, purple truck: Pho Nomenal Dumpling Truck.
Not only have the two chefs taken their food truck throughout the roads of Raleigh, but throughout the highway of Route 66 as well. They participated in the competition series “The Great Food Truck Race” on Food Network for the sixth season, alongside Becca Plumlee, who the duo referred to as their “pho nomenal third wheel.” The show premiered Aug. 23 and finished Sunday. As the underdog of the series, they were able to drive away from Chicago as winners, defeating Waffle Love.
“I’m so proud of us, and I’m so grateful that Becca and Sunny were with me on this trip,” Woo said in the season finale of the show.
The prize for the winning team of the TV show was $50,000 which Lin, Woo and their team earned. Lin described the winnings as “the seed money to the dreams that we have.”
Pho Nomenal Dumpling Truck is a play on words featuring one of Vietnam’s signature dishes, pho. Pho is made with rice vermicelli noodles, garnishes and typically a beef broth. Other varieties could also include chicken or just vegetables. The dumplings in the name comes from one of their more popular dishes made with pork, or tofu and veggies.
“When we met in high school, we got the idea to start a food truck,” Lin said. “Dump Pho King Truck was the first name we dubbed our food truck, and the truck still has a graphic of a crown as well as in their logo.”
The Dump Pho King Truck got started from a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to build their truck. They were able to build their truck in three months after their start in April. The business remained as Dump Pho King for about a year until they changed it to Pho Nomenal Dumplings.
Lin and Woo’s truck also pays homage to those who supported their Kickstarter with names graphically shaped to chopsticks. Currently, they make regular stops to Trinity Place and Blackjack Brewing Company.
Jay Dolan, who works close to one of the stops, said that they’ve been near his office at Trinity Place enough times that he now follows them on Twitter.
Lin said that “The Great Food Truck Race” was the best business class she ever took. She got to see the behind the scenes view of other businesses, which made her want to be better. She said it motivated her to push harder and outdo the other competitors. While classrooms can’t typically fabricate competition like food truck races in real life, Lin is still a big advocate in learning with your hands and learning from experience.
“The competitiveness cannot be taught in a classroom, and that’s one of the coolest things for me,” Lin said. “And I got to do a road trip.”
Woo said she learned from the TV show that it’s important to take risks. Without taking risks, you cannot move forward, according to Woo.
“If you never take that risk or stay in a safe space, you won’t have that opportunity in the future to back up on,” Woo said. “That’s what I’ve learned through Sunny [Lin] and the show. We also learned where we could take the risks during the show and where they could appear.”
Woo said they joked that they learned to play the game a little better, but they learned how the competition works and where the boundaries were to keep the game even and fair.
Currently, they are not planning to expand on the locations where they are at. Because a food truck is essentially a large piece of equipment to maintain, there’s a limit on how much it can take and how much they can do.
However, Lin said they are looking at this momentum as an opportunity to look for a brick-and-mortar location for their business. They find that it would be ideal for them to have a standing building where they can continue to interact with their community through food.