A little more than three years after launching SpOt Gourmet Burgers, Steaks and Pork, Josh Kim, the energetic and outspoken man inside the little red-and-yellow street cart, is turning in his tow hitch for a set of front-door keys.
He and a partner have signed on to open a permanent SpOt space at 2821 W. Girard Ave. in Brewerytown by fall.
South Philly native Kim, whose path into mobile vending follows a trajectory familiar to many food truckers — held a bunch of non-food jobs, hated them; turned to cooking, loved it — has been working on this move for a year.
The street-food scene in Philly is expanding rapidly — but it's also changing, he says, and not all for the better.
The viability of this niche of the business has encouraged a high number of newcomers to jump into the fray, some of whom are diluting the market with inferior product, Kim feels.
There are also factors like recently introduced legislation from Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell that would place added operational and financial strictures on trucks and carts selling on Drexel's campus, SpOt's primary stomping grounds.
"Looking at the landscape of the mobile food sector and seeing the business climate moving forward," he says, "it's far more advantageous to go bricks instead."
Kim says he chatted numbers with a few developers, including some with stakes in greater Rittenhouse, about moving into that area, but ultimately decided against it.
"Center City wasn't our game," he says. "We wanted to be more neighborhood." Of all the areas he poked around in, Brewerytown, with its reasonable rents, proximity to college campuses and on-the-rise culinary reputation, appealed to him. The pending SpOT space, about 1,300 square feet with room for 20 to 30 seats, was the former home of Butter's Soul Food, which recently moved up the street.
It's right near the brand-new Crime & Punishment Brewing Co., and it's joining a number of established food-and-drink businesses — Rybrew, Sarah's Place, The Monkey & The Elephant — in refreshing that side of Girard with some new blood. (There are also pending projects, like Uncle Pizza Dad's, from the Pizza Brain crew, and a forthcoming project from Flying Fish at 31st and Master Streets.)
SpOt, as a restaurant, will still focus heavily on burgers, offering 10 or more setups in addition to patty options beyond beef (turkey, salmon, veggie, etc.). It also will still do cheesesteaks, chicken cheesesteaks and the like, and will now have room to provide once-sporadic cart specials, like lobster rolls, regularly.
Kim is particularly fired up about a new signature creation he's calling "The Philly Jawn" — sloppy joe meat on a potato roll topped with onion, ribeye cheesesteak meat, house-cut fries and Cheez Whiz.
"You can't describe it as anything other than a jawn," says Kim, who jokingly refers to it as "The Schmitter of our generation." The space will be BYOB to start, but he and his silent partner, a childhood friend who works in finance and will be handling that aspect of the business, have plans to pursue a liquor license come 2016.
As for his ketchup-and-mustard-hued cart, such a familiar sight for the Drexel types around 33rd and Arch Streets — Kim will be vending as usual until the opening of the restaurant, after which point he'll retire it and invest in a SpOt truck he will use for catering gigs.
He hopes to incorporate elements of it into the industrial minimalist interior of the restaurant, which will be designed by his brother, Josh Kim of Ambit Architecture.
"That guy is a little champion, man," says Kim, sounding a little sentimental. "We're thinking of creative ways to keep it alive."