Chef

Chef Peter Tran cooking within the truck

Food Trucks aren’t necessarily the type of food station with fancy silverware and waiters ready to take your order, but they provide comfort food, often tasty morsels bound to please your palate. Hangry Panda is one of them. They specialize in quality Vietnamese food made with love and determination by head chef Peter Tran. 

“Asian fusion is the best way to describe it,” said owner Tuyet Pham. “We want to give something traditional with a spin on it to make it modern, essentially the freshest modern Asian fusion with the boldest flavor.”

Their journey is quite remarkable, and it started, like most restaurants and food outlets do, with a passion. Tran started off working in a Hibachi restaurant and soon left when the opportunity came for him to start running his own business. He then bought a truck, and soon the journey began and is still going for 16 years.

At first, the truck began operating in Washington D.C., serving food to office buildings and other government buildings within the area. But then the pandemic happened, and soon came the struggles. 

“We were struggling so bad, and we were so behind, so we tried to apply for the SBA loan and also the PPP program from the government, but they did not even bother, you know, looking at us because we’re not big enough, and just way too small,” said Pham.

The pandemic hasn’t been kind to Tran and Pham as the lack of customers overall, including the resurging times when restaurants are opening up, has hurt the business. 

“The challenge is not so much the food, but rather people are going out to another restaurant,” said Pham. “People would like to have a sit-down, and it’s a challenge right now to keep up with that.” 

It’s a heartbreaking story to hear, given how much time and effort has been placed into the truck. But it’s sadly not uncommon. Since the start of the pandemic, 10.2 percent of U.S restaurants have shuttered, and 22.5 percent of mobile food vendors have closed down, statistics from Datassential show. 

While Hangry Panda is still running, it's not without its challenges. But Tran wasn't about to let his dream die. Tran initially teamed up with a childhood friend to start Hangry Panda, but the friend abandoned in December due to unbearable struggles. Additionally, in May, Hangry Panda’s original truck stopped working, causing them to acquire a “used truck” 24 hours later through Facebook Marketplace.

It is easy to believe that food trucks are known for grease-running-down-your-arm burgers, hot dogs, pizzas, and various other items. However, Hangry Panda is different, and its food has several benefits. For one, it consists of fresh ingredients, and nothing is left over. Also, their menu varies based on the season. Additionally, they offer 24-hour customer service on-site. 

Pham says their biggest seller is the Big Daddy hot mess, consisting of Brisket, Crispy Fried Chicken, Garlicky Parmesan Tots with French Fries, Jalapeno slices, and Vidalia Onions, a tantalizing meal in and of itself. 

Moreover, despite their struggles, their hard work and passion have not gone unnoticed. In May, they served more than 300 meals to nurses and staff on the front line at the Virginia Health Center in Arlington. Their efforts were also featured on Fox 5.  

Nonetheless, the pandemic is nearing closer and closer to an end, and restaurants and bars are finally re-opening their doors. It’s easy to see why people are so anxious to head back to their favorite pubs and return to a sense of normalcy. However, they are avoiding those who so anxiously depend on customers and their loyal devotion to survive and make a living in that process. 

Pham hopes that people will bring themselves to come to try the authentic food that they possess. Also, given how the pandemic has changed their lives significantly, Pham believes there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

“We want to continue our kindness even when we struggle,” said Pham. “I want to tell people that even when you are at the lowest point, the lowest point of your life, you can make a difference. It doesn’t matter.”

To learn more about Hangry Panda and bring them to your neck of the woods, visit their website at https://bit.ly/3jOmzbq

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