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Yumbii Owner Carson Young on Food Trucks, Permitting Issues, and Going Brick and Mortar

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Julia Robbs courtesy of The Reynolds Group

Carson Young, the 27-year-old owner of Atlanta's first food truck, Yumbii, got his start selling Korean-inspired tacos in 2010. Last year, he launched a second Yumbii truck, and this summer he opened a brick-and-mortar pop-up with Cafe at Pharr in Atlantic Station. Here, he talks about his plans for the future, the permitting issues food trucks face in the city, and more.

Why is the food truck scene so big right now?
I think there are many reasons— this is the hottest trend right now. This is a big city, very spread out. People are living more fast-paced lives, and they want good food fast.

What's next for Yumbii?
I want to expand, but I don't know if I want more trucks or if I want to go into another direction. At some point I need to have my own restaurant, because one of the rules in Atlanta is that you have to have a commercial kitchen to run out of if you have a food truck. So I partnered up with Hankook Taqueria and now Cafe at Pharr, but I'd like to have my own kitchen so that I can sell out the front door in addition to the food trucks.

This summer, there was a Café at Pharr and Yumbii pop-up in Atlantic Station. Will your next venture be a brick and mortar location of Yumbii or something different?
It would be a new concept entirely, but nothing is set yet. I'm all over the place. The point of the pop-up was to learn if I could make a transition from the truck to a brick and mortar before I actually looked for a space. We learned a lot, it was a big learning experience and it prepared us for the next step.

You also have YumDiggity at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market.
Yeah, that's hot dogs that are locally sourced. The Market is a good place to test a business too. Bell Street Burritos, Sweet Auburn Barbecue, they all started there. I like the location, but we're learning, and hopefully we'll launch another stand somewhere. We're also starting to cater, and we sometimes use the Yumbii trucks to cater YumDiggity. We've also started to have sandwiches.

What's going on with all the food truck permitting issues lately?
It's tough. Before things got big, nobody knew what was going to happen and what the laws were. We're learning and Atlanta is learning, and we're taking it one step at a time. It's good to have tough laws because you don't want people to get sick. If you're moving food around, you could get a lot of people sick.

What about the zoning laws?
Food trucks have to be considered brick and mortar, so they can only be a certain distance from another truck that serves the same food or a restaurant that serves the same food.

Some people say that food trucks should be on the road instead of gathering in one place every day. Do you like Atlanta Food Truck Park?
Yes, I like it. You know, in LA, you can walk around, but if you go to places like Austin or Portland, they have food parks everywhere. I think Atlanta can be a hybrid of both. We've got all different parts of Atlanta.

Food parks work, but finding private properties can be difficult. The hardest part is that if buildings have contracts with vendors, they're not allowed to have outside vendors. You have to find the right place. Then, each location is considered a new business, so I have to get a business license and health permit for each one of them. There are so many different things that make this business hard, but it's worth it.

How have things changed since you started in 2010?
When I first started, the hard part was getting people aware of food trucks. People would see my truck and didn't want to eat off of it. Now, everybody knows you can eat off a truck. They'll see us and pull over. More and more people are starting to find out about food trucks now.

I went to Red Brick [Brewing Company] on my very first day. It was crowded, but no one would eat off of the truck. They were all like, what is that? Now, more people are learning about it, and the word is getting out.

How did you decide to bring a food truck to Atlanta?
I worked in Midtown from 9 to 5, and it was so hard to get good food. We only had a cafeteria in the building, and I kept thinking that food needed to brought in. Then I went on a trip to LA for the first time with my mom— I read a lot too, the WSJ and the NYT so I'd been reading a lot about the food trucks, but I'd never actually seen it. So when I went to LA, I dropped my mom off to the market and then I was driving around and I saw all the trucks, and I ate off some of them and it just clicked that I wanted to do this. So I did the research, and I found out there were no food trucks in Atlanta.

How did you choose the name?
I wanted a name that was unique. Yum, obviously, means good, and the two i's remind people of social interactivity— like the Wii game. You have a group of people together, you're finding the truck through social media— you get together and you find the food, so it's interactive.

Do you think are food trucks here to stay?
They'll always be around. There are so many parts of Atlanta, and now we've started going to places like Paper Mill Village, Cobb, and Smyrna outside of the perimeter. It's hard to open a brick and mortar out there and it's hard for them to come into the city all the time, so we're able to bring good food to them.

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