Noodle Girl | Berkeley, CA.
Noodle Girl is a fresh and modern Vietnamese food concept born in the San Francisco Bay Area and founded by Hang Truong.
When did you start your business?
I started in 2016 through La Cocina. (La Cocina is a nonprofit food business incubator that helps women, immigrants, and people of color grow their food companies, and a partner of ICA’s.)
Who and or what inspired you to start it?
I was inspired to start Noodle Girl by my mom. I miss her food and I always compare her cooking to when I eat out. When my husband was sick I used my mom’s recipes to cook broth for him. This became the only thing he was able to eat during the last few months before he passed away. After he passed, I decided to infuse this broth into Pho to bring out more nutrition and healthier ingredients.
What were some early challenges or roadblocks you faced?
English is not my first language – I did not understand all the paperwork I needed to run a business in the US. As an immigrant, I have to learn through baby steps to build my business by myself. I woke up very early at 4am in order to prepare for my day. I was very nervous when my employees did not show up in the kitchen. I have to manage, cook, and serve good quality food.
I feel powerful when I am able to handle my difficult moments. I feel stronger to walk through the difficulties in the business.
“I want Noodle Girl to have multiple locations from San Francisco to the East Bay. I hope the community knows Noodle Girl is here and selling good food!
— Hang Truong
How was your business doing before the corona virus hit?
Noodle Girl fed students and employees at the UC Berkeley Student Campus. Business was good. However, I want to expand my space so I can do more catering. My plan is to look for a bigger place to move my kitchen out of Berkeley this year.
What effect did COVID have on your business in the beginning? What did you do?
My kiosk at UC Berkeley has been closed since March, cancelling all my catering and drop in business.
I was nervous and worried about when I would be able to open again.
The first week I stayed home I read about healthy tips in food to help the immune system. I was doing this to help myself and family members stay healthy. I created a set meal menu with many ingredients focused on healthy ingredients and shared it with my friends and family.
I knew I wanted to bring this meal set to my customers to hopefully share the health benefits. After adding these sets to the Noodle Girl website, we are slowly bringing our customers back. The online business is challenging and often not profitable, but I am here to sell my food to my customers - I am still serving with my heart in the community.
How have you pivoted?
I turned my business online, balancing food deliveries with social distance. I have also taken this time to increase my computer and social media marketing skills.
I learned how to survive when things got difficult. It is not easy but I am happy when I see the improvement. I am so thankful to La Cocina mentors and ICA to walk with me through this difficult time.
What’s on the horizon for Noodle Girl?
I am excited to announce that I have secured a place in Oakland for Noodle Girl. I am very happy that I will have my own place to cook and play around with the business in 2020.
I plan to integrate with more food delivery third parties as well as having a storefront to act as a hub for delivery and pick up for customers in the East Bay.
In two years, I hope to be established in the Oakland location with a robust presence in-person, online and through catering.
In five years, I hope that Noodle Girl will have a strong presence across the entire Bay Area.
How has ICA helped you on your small business journey?
Right now, I am hoping to work with ICA to find capital to support our move into the new location.
I am still looking for continued mentorship on marketing strategy and website design. I would also love to work with ICA to bring my food to impacted communities such as front line workers or the elderly.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs running a business now?
I am not any better than anyone in this business at this moment. From my experiences, I am seeking for help anywhere I can find.
I just take slow steps every day - following mask and gloves protocol and keeping my distance. In cooking and serving food, I wash my raw vegetables with salt solution and keep my equipment clean at all times in my kitchen. I prioritize my employees and my customers' safety by providing masks and encouraging washing hands and distance.
I do not give up and I want to face the challenges. Doing this makes me become a strong person and stronger women in the food business. I am learning every step with every step when I faltered and learned how to improve. I am making a choice to be better and stronger in my business. It will take time but it will arrive if I do not give up and I hope everyone is not giving up because of Covid 19. This is just a temporary time. Everyone is missing eating out with friends, colleges and tasting some good food together and good service in restaurants.
How can your community support you?
I want Noodle Girl to have multiple locations from San Francisco to the East Bay. I hope the community knows Noodle Girl is here and selling good food!
Follow Noodle Girl online: noodlegirlrestaurant.com.
This article is one from a series of profiles featuring entrepreneurs from Cohort Five of the ICA Accelerator.
Read the other Cohort 5 stories: