Trading Wheels for Steel

Two of Las Vegas’ most popular food trucks transition to brick-and-mortar restaurants. Here’s who, how and why.

Fat Choy's chef-owner Sheridan Su. | Jon Estrada

Fat Choy’s chef-owner Sheridan Su. | Jon Estrada

It’s no secret: There’s a great food-truck movement established in Las Vegas. It seems like you can get anything off the back of a truck nowadays, from burgers and fries to Hawaiian-style shave ice to everything in between. A few of those adventurous truckers decided to trade their mobile hot spots for brick-and-mortar restaurants. As is to be expected, the transition can be a tricky, but welcomed, change from the challenges of operating in a confined space. Vegas Seven spoke with two restaurateurs about their experiences making the jump, what it means to their bottom line and the challenges they had to overcome.

Fat Choy

Fat Choy’s short-rib grilled cheese. | Jon Estrada

Fat Choy’s short-rib grilled cheese. | Jon Estrada

When chef Sheridan Su started his food truck, everyone wanted a bite of the Great Bao. But it was a little slow going, because the truck itself needed a lot of work. Su says before he even hit the streets to sell his tiny sandwiches, the used truck needed updating and maintenance. Once the truck did finally get going, the challenges were in the kitchen.

“With a truck there’s very little room to do anything. It limits you to maybe four or five items,” Su says. Even when the truck was up and running it wasn’t dependable, as Su says it broke down a lot. The last straw was a breakdown on the side of the road, which held him up for hours. So when Eureka Casino executives approached him to open Fat Choy (595 E. Sahara Ave., 794-3464), Su jumped at the opportunity.

“Making the switch from food truck to restaurant, it’s so much more stable,” Su says. “In a restaurant it’s so exciting, because we get to play with so many more techniques.” Techniques such as slow-braising tender short ribs for six hours, used on dishes such as the Fat Choy Burger with Angus beef, bacon and fried egg, and the short-rib grilled cheese with onion jam. “In a truck, when you go out, you never know how much food you’re going to sell. The benefit to having a truck is you travel to wherever the people are.”

This includes festivals, catering events and office functions. When doing big events like this, Su says the payoff can be huge. In a restaurant, Su has to wait for his customers to come to him—and sometimes customers are hesitant because of the slowly reviving area. Even so, he says it’s the right place for the restaurant, and it’s doing well.

Slidin’ Thru

Slidin’ Thru crew | Jon Estrada

Slidin’ Thru crew | Jon Estrada

When the popular food truck Slidin’ Thru wanted to open a restaurant, it was only natural that their fan-favorite burgers made the jump, too, along with the cartoonish graphics on the wall. The colorful restaurant serves tricked-out burgers, such as the Caprese, the Ya Ya (a Greek burger complete with feta and tzatziki sauce) and the signature Captain’s Order, a beef patty with arugula, feta cheese, balsamic reduction and sautéed onions. While all of that ended up at the restaurant (6410 N. Durango Dr., 645-1570), Slidin’ Thru’s food truck has clear advantages and is still truckin’ away.

“You can go where the business is,” says Keith McCoy, events coordinator for Slidin’ Thru about the benefits of having a truck. Undoubtedly, being mobile is a huge advantage when catering to the customer, but that mobility comes with a price—especially in the Las Vegas summers. The truck doesn’t have air conditioning when it isn’t running, and if you’ve parked to serve guests, your truck isn’t running.

McCoy says it costs less to start a truck than a restaurant. But that’s only if your truck doesn’t need constant repair. And in a restaurant, food gets delivered to you as opposed to going shopping for it—a big time-saver.

McCoy says there isn’t much the Slidin’ Thru truck can’t do, except make milkshakes; more manpower and electrical power is needed for those. “If you have the support crew like we do, with the ability to re-stock the truck, you can put food out of both [the restaurant and the truck] equally as fast and at the same volume,” McCoy says.