Meet Mark, The Filipino Half Of Kogi BBQ
Mark Manguera prefers to stay under the radar and out of the spotlight when it comes to many things KOGI BBQ. That’s right, this Filipino dude is the other half of the bulgogi-kalbi-taco empire. We had a chance to catch up with Mark at Cafe 101 in Hollywood. He dropped some serious food for thought. Check out why Mark thanks the recession, gives drinking props and advises all entrepreneurs to do this before they start.
Name: Mark Manguera
Position: Founder/ Co-Owner Kogi BBQ Taco Truck
Current City: Los Angeles
Favorite Pork Dish: Chego’s Pork Belly
Favorite Filipino Food: Turon
Where’d you grow up?
My parents came from the Philippines to the United States when I was 2. We bumped around for awhile, then landed in Vallejo, CA, home of E-40. We lived in one bedroom of a shared house and at one point we lived in the car.
How’d you get into the professional food business?
Well, like most kids, after high school, I wanted to get away from my parents, so I decided to go to Cal State Fullerton. My mom followed me(LOL). I moved down here to study Management and Entrepreneurial Studies. I did that, then I decided to go to culinary school and moved back up North. I attended the CCA in San Francisco. From that point I did an internship at the Grand Wailea in Maui. When I came back, I worked in kitchens in San Francisco and I did catering in Napa. After learning kitchen operations, I felt comfortable enough to transition to front of house, management.
I landed a job at the Hyatt in Huntington Beach. I helped open that hotel. We did tons of parties like the Golden Globes and HBO, then the recession hit. In 2008, I got laid off, but thank goodness, because that’s when I met my boy Roy Choi. He was a chef.
Where did the idea for Kogi come from? And what the hell does Kogi mean?
It came from a night of being drunk. Back then, I was single and always going to the clubs. I was annoyed by the idea that I had to go somewhere else after the club to get some food. It started from there. We tossed around ideas, then finally came up with bulgogi tacos (grilled marinated beef), but found that it would get watery. Instead we’d grill galbi or kalbi (marinated beef or pork) and there you go. We had this great idea and the deal was “I’ll get the truck, you cook. There was no master plan. It was like, I’ll try to figure this shit out and here’s the key to the truck”. Roy is the homie and the chef. I’m better behind the scenes.
You guys are a BFD, how’d that happen?
Like I said, there was no “master planning”, but I think my background helped me. The foundation was strong. Foundation is the most important. You have to be prepared, both mentally and physically. It was all pointing in the direction of opening a business one day. I was determined and felt prepared. I always tell people plan. PLAN. There’s planning and there’s poor planning. Because I grew up the way I grew up, I never wanted to go back there. I’ve got a “make it or break it” mentality, and I’ve always understood hard work. It transformed me into a businessman.
Now that you have this platform, do you ever think about introducing Filipino food to your audience?
Yes, especially now, because I have a kid. I feel like can’t really teach my kid the “Filipino” culture and food I want her to learn. If I want her to know “something” Filipino, I end up at Seafood city or Goldilocks. That shouldn’t be the only option. I even started to notice I feel empty, like I miss it. I also feel like I’m letting my peeps down, but I don’t ever want to do anything half-ass. It’s all about execution, so for now, while I’m making my next move, I give back by sharing my experiences. I give my advice and share personal experiences to businesses and entrepreneurs, but dont sleep, I do have plans…
What is it that you want people to know about Filipino food, its’ culture and the future?
The Philippines has a cool street food scene. We have to create the right platform and avenue for it. It’s all about the approach and execution,not inconsistencies. Filipino food is disconnected. If I want great pancit I have to go to one city, but if I want delicious lumpia, I have to go to another. We need to change that.The future of Filipino food is dependent on the people in the game right now and how they are representing it.
Filipino food will absolutely be as popular as the other popular ethnic cuisines out there right now.