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8E8 Thai Street Food’s rise to the top of the UCLA food truck chain

Pictured is the 8E8 Thai Street Food truck, parked outside Sproul Hall. The truck was recently identified as the most popular at UCLA. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

By Reese Dahlgren

April 16, 2024 7:40 p.m.

This post was updated April 16 at 10:05 p.m. 

When Montre Liwirun moved from Thailand to the United States in 1991, he did not want to get into the food business.

After being born into the food industry in Thailand, he looked for a new start. Almost a decade later, after the garment business Liwirun worked at began to decline, he decided to return to his roots.

Today, he owns the most popular food truck at UCLA.

“I don’t know what happened to me,” Liwirun said. “One day, I said I’d try, and after that, since 2000, until now, I didn’t do another business – I just kept cooking.”

8E8 Thai Street Food was founded in 2016 and serves pad thai, pad see ew and yellow curry, as well as other popular Thai dishes. The food truck served nearly 64,000 meals during the 2022-2023 academic year, making it the most popular food truck at UCLA, according to documents obtained by the Daily Bruin.

Liwirun, the founder of 8E8 Thai Street Food, said he was exposed to the food business at an early age, working at his father’s street food restaurant in Thailand.

“I was born into the food business,” Liwirun said. “In Thailand, it’s more hard than here because you have to show up every day. In the morning at four, (I would) go the market, buy some stuff, go back to the restaurant, help some and then go (to) school.”

Liwirun said he began looking for work elsewhere in 2000 and eventually decided to move to Hawaii to get back into the restaurant industry.

(Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)
Students waiting in line outside the food truck are pictured. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

He said he moved between Hawaii and Idaho, working in restaurants in both states, before settling in California. He added that he felt the restaurant business was a lot to handle and was unsure of his next pursuit until, in 2014, he happened upon a food truck called ‘White Guy Pad Thai’ and began helping out the owner.

“I learned from them that white guys do pad thai,” he said. “I took over from him. But I don’t only want to sell pad thai. That’s why we sell more variety – whatever I learned from my parents and my family.”

Two years later, he bought his own food truck, creating 8E8 Thai Street Food. He added that he decided on the truck’s name ‘8E8’ because it sounds like the noise that Thai people think roosters make in the morning. He said many of the dishes he serves at the truck stem from family recipes he learned from his father and uncle.

Before the pandemic, the truck sold most of its meals outside company offices like Tesla and SpaceX.

Liwirun added that the business became more successful when he started working with UCLA after the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing him to hire more workers and often sell 1,000 to 1,200 meals per day. The food truck made $607,297 from sales at UCLA in the 2022-2023 academic year, according to university records.

The black and gold truck sets up on the Hill three days a week, typically gaining a long line of students waiting for 8E8’s most popular dishes like pad thai and yellow curry, even before the window opens for business.

(Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)
The food truck is pictured outside Sproul Hall. (Jeremy Chen/Photo editor)

Liwirun said one of his favorite parts of having the food truck is seeing how many students enjoy its food. He added that sourcing good quality ingredients is the key to their success.

“What we do here is not exactly (what’s) in Thailand,” Liwirun said. “But it’s really close to Thailand … We try to bring that here and try to make all the people here say, ‘Oh, okay, Thai food is really good.’”

He added that despite not using the same ingredients or cooking techniques that his family had in Thailand, working in the food industry with his family and learning from their recipes allowed him to create dishes of a similar quality that people enjoy.

Liwirun added that finding and maintaining regular customers is always one of the challenges in the food truck business, particularly as his customers from office spaces began working from home more often, which led to less business. However, he said high demand can also pose issues as the truck can only produce so much without the support of a kitchen.

Isabel Rodriguez, a third-year English student, said she first tried the food truck after her roommates recommended it to her during the winter quarter, adding that she has been a loyal customer ever since.

“The food is just good,” Rodriguez said. “They exposed me to different types of food, whereas I really only stick to the ones I know.”

She added that even though the lines can be long, the truck’s staff try to keep things as efficient as possible, ensuring that her meal is ready to pick up immediately.

Victoria Takacs, a third-year political science student, said 8E8 provides good quality food while maintaining relatively large serving sizes.

Overall, Liwirun said his favorite part of coming to UCLA is seeing the positive impact their food has on their customers.

“The food business is hard work, but it makes people happy,” he said. “A lot of people say, ‘Your food is awesome. Your food is so good.’ … We love that.”

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Reese Dahlgren
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