Image courtesy of The Chairman Truck
One of the original food trucks in San Francisco, The Chairman Truck has provided the highest quality house-baked steam buns with fresh meats and sauces to the city for over ten years.
During the early years of the business, Curtis Lam was an intern who was passionate about the food truck’s mission and hopeful for its future. Because of this, he jumped at the opportunity to work as the operator of all of the company’s San Francisco food trucks. Curtis says, “We wanted to elevate the steam bun to new levels, and we were able to do that successfully here in San Francisco.”
And successful they were. A few years ago, The Chairman Truck was voted “Best Food Truck” by San Francisco Magazine, and they do not disappoint. Each and every steam bun—the foundation of the majority of the menu—is handmade in the morning and filled with the best, most sustainably-sourced protein sure to make an impression on anyone.
Everything down to their sauces and pickles are crafted in-house. Even so, Curtis notes that their “Best Food Truck” title is something that they’re still humbled by. When his team learned the news, “We were really ecstatic. I guess all of our intentions that we put into our food got us to where we are now.”
Creativity in Practice
In addition to intentionality, the staff’s creativity makes The Chairman Truck such a unique experience. Curtis says, “Traditionally, we serve steam buns with duck and we wanted to see what else we could do with it.”
The menu features distinctive options such as Coca-Cola braised pork, a recipe that Chef Hiro’s mother originally created when he was young. However, Curtis notes that it’s still the classic duck that is his favorite, with the pork belly steam bun at a close second. He’s continued to eat it at least once a week for the past ten years.
A Man of Many Trades
Given Curtis’ industry knowledge and passion for food, one might assume he’s been in the restaurant business forever. However, he was an engineer and insurance broker for a while before he came into the business of food.
He remembers a specific time when he knew he needed to change careers. He says, “I was sitting at my desk thinking to myself, ‘You know, I’m getting tired of this.’ Even though it did pay the bills, I wasn’t passionate about it and I realized that I wanted to do something that felt more honest. There’s nothing more honest than food, it’s really something that you can’t lie about. It’s like truth on a plate.”
Now, The Chairman Truck has maintained this honest truth on a plate for ten years. Curtis notes that despite pressures to change, they’ve always stuck to their guns and been successful. That is, until a global pandemic rocked the entire world.
Adapting to Covid-19
The restaurant industry has suffered from Covid-19’s presence, and The Chairman Truck is no exception. Curtis explains that, “Everything had to shut down. No one was downtown anymore so pulling up for service just didn’t make sense. Everything was up in the air, people were scared to come out, so we just did what we could.”
The truck became available on all major delivery and takeout apps in the city, and it’s also been part of a city-wide program working to provide meals to low-income housing residents for the last two months, seven days a week. However, Curtis notes that even though they are working to stay open, their sales are down to just 20-30% of what they used to be.
Even so, Curtis notes the importance of staying open, remarking, “We understand that we need to stay open for our community, for our employees, and hopefully we can get back out there and serve our community again soon.”
The future remains difficult to predict, but Curtis and the members of The Chairman Truck keep chugging along. People need their truth on a plate.