Chowing down with SuAn Chow, Chow Truck | The Daily Utah Chronicle

IGP3819-300x199Food trucks have come a long way. Today’s mobile restaurants are shedding the “roach coach” moniker and moving toward haute cuisine.

Since 2010, SuAn Chow and her Chow Truck have been at the forefront of Salt Lake City’s mobile food movement. Chow has a unique menu infused with flavors from Asia.

“Everyone understands tacos or sliders or salads,” Chow said. “The twist is the actual base, the marinade, the sauces.”

Panko-crusted tofu, coconut lemongrass chicken and pineapple ginger pork are some of the menu’s mainstays. Chow’s flare for blurring the line between regional cuisines might have come from her upbringing.

She is a second-generation Chinese-American, born and raised in Salt Lake City. Growing up, her parents owned a restaurant that featured Polynesian-themed décor and a menu of both Chinese and American dishes. Her family spent a lot of time at that restaurant, Chow said.

“I saw how hard my parents worked and thought there had to be a better way to make a living,” she said. “I always vowed never to get in the business.”

But in 1985, she started her own restaurant, Charlie Chow’s. It was her way of providing a venue for her father to cook traditional Chinese food.

“I wanted to rescue my father from his restaurant, which was a dying concept,” Chow said.

At the time, the public was becoming savvier about food and travel, and Chow saw a market for authentic Chinese food in Salt Lake City.

“We did black bean mussels and clams,” she said. “I was the first to offer dim sum as appetizers on the regular menu.”

Her father died of colon cancer about a year after the opening of Charlie Chow’s, but she held on to the restaurant until 1993. After she sold the restaurant, Chow moved to New York and explored careers in retail and real estate — all while keeping an eye on trends in the restaurant and food world.

In the late 2000s, she was reading a lot about the burgeoning food-truck scene in Los Angeles and decided to head west to see what the hype was about.

The Chow Truck has been in business for a little more than two years and it’s already garnered awards from City Weekly and Salt Lake Magazine for its distinctive offerings.

But all the accolades haven’t come easily. Operating a food truck can be harder than running a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant, Chow said. With the mobile model, she has to deal with the weather and stay on the move to comply with city ordinances.

Technical difficulties aside, Chow’s truck has allowed her to connect with her customers and community in a way that’s not possible with a traditional restaurant.

“Being able to hear people respond to the food is very gratifying,” she said.

*Originally published at The Daily Utah Chronicle.