Chrissy Nucum, chef-owner of KC Pinoy food truck, had always planned to give her Filipino cuisine more of a permanent home. She already had a detailed five-year plan, she says, starting with the debut of her food truck in March 2016 and culminating with a full-fledged restaurant sometime in 2019.
“I knew that I kind of needed to get my feet wet in the food industry before I jumped into the restaurant,” she explains. “I call the food truck the ‘gateway drug’ to my restaurant. It was important to me to figure out if I could really do it on my own.”
Luckily, Nucum has turned out to be a natural at the business. Now, she says, she has the opportunity to bring her dream of a brick-and-mortar restaurant to life a little ahead of schedule.
“Right now, we pay a pretty good amount for the commissary kitchen. Every food truck has to have one for preparing dishes, storing dry goods and leftovers, that kind of thing,” she says. “I did the math, and it's a lot of money, and after you pay for it, it goes away. So I made the decision late last year to move the restaurant plans a little earlier. I figured if we could use whatever money we paid for rent in the commissary kitchen and put more into our lease, then we have money for our storefront as well as the food truck.”
Nucum has been looking for a space since February of this year, and she thinks she’s found one at last in Kansas City. Though she’s currently under contract, she doesn’t want to give any more details about the neighborhood until she’s signed on a dotted line – no jinxing what’s taken her so long to find, she jokes.
In the meantime, Nucum has launched a Kickstarterto help fund the restaurant’s build out. The Kickstarter ends on August 27, and Nucum says she’s hoping to do a pop-up dinner between now and then to test out potential new dishes for the restaurant and raise additional funds.
“I'm thinking about doing heavier dishes or street food, because those are the two things we haven't tested out in Kansas City, and we'd love to get feedback from customers on what they think,” she says.
Nucum plans to finish out the food-truck season, which runs through November, and roll out her restaurant’s soft opening before Thanksgiving weekend. That means, Nucum says, that for the first time, KC Pinoy will have continuity of service – even with the truck in hibernation for the winter months.
Nucum is also excited to introduce some of the broader flavors of the Philippines to her guests. Menu items in the truck are relatively limited: She’s got chicken adobo (chicken thigh braised in soy sauce, vinegar and garlic) and lechon kawali (deep fried pork belly) with jasmine or garlic fried rice, plus the occasional snack, like kropek (shrimp chips) and Filipino ice pops. With a restaurant, she’ll be able to do much more.
“We're hoping to have a menu that’s obviously Filipino, but also drills down to the regional food I grew up with,” Nucum says. “I’m from Pampanga and grew up with food from there and enjoyed that my entire life. So we're just not doing Filipino food, we're doing regional stuff.”
That means items like sinagong, a sweet and sour soup with different proteins, will make an appearance. Traditionally, sinagong is made with tamarind, but Nucum’s home region uses mashed sour guavas.
“That's one we can't do in the truck, because it's too labor intensive and we can't keep it fresh,” she says. “We’re also going to be doing lots of vegetables cooked to order, and I'm excited to start serving Filipino street food. That's big in the Philippines – every street has carts and stalls with different street food, and I'm excited to bring some of that to Kansas City.”
Nucum’s menu will cater to all palates, she says, from carnivores to vegans. She is also planning on having happy hour specials and a full bar, featuring specialty cocktails and Filipino beers. Nucum also plans to work with local purveyors to bring hard-to-find goods to the restaurant; she’s already got Grandview’s Encore Coffee Company on board to roast Filipino beans for her to serve to guests.
“Our goal is to educate people about Filipino food,” Nucum says. “Once we get the space settled, we can invite chefs from all over the country to do collaborations. I want the guys from Guerrilla Street Food in St. Louis to come out and do a dinner in our space. The Filipino culinary community [across the region] is very small compared to others, and we know each other, so it would be nice to bring people in and showcase what Filipino food is really like.”