It Girls | SOPHIA WOO & SUNNY LIN
By: Danae Edmonds
Picture a lavender and black truck with HUGE letters on the side that say Dump Pho King Truck. To know me is to know my sense of humor and love for dumplings, so naturally, I was intrigued. Since that time, I have seen said truck evolve to what is now the Pho Nomenal Dumpling Truck. Seriously this truck has been literally EVERYWHERE... even on thousands of televisions across the country because they won Season 6 of the Great Food Truck Race on the Food Network! I was so happy to have the opportunity to meet Sophia and ask her and Sunny to be It Girls. I could go on and on about these two and their super delicious dumplings but I would be remiss to not also rave about their perseverance. In their It Girl interview, they share their story and advice on following your dreams.
Names: Sophia Woo and Sunny Lin
Ages: both 28
Job Title/Company: 2 Girls. 1 Truck. at the Pho Nomenal Dumpling Truck
Education Background: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for undergrad and grad school and North Carolina State University
1.Tell us a little about who you are.
Sophia: My name is Sophia Woo and I’m 28 years old. Born and raised in North Carolina, I went to UNC CH for undergrad and grad school and I’m a diehard Tarheel fan.
Sunny: I’m Sunny and I’m also 28. I’ve lived all over, but am now happy to call North Carolina and Raleigh home. I graduated from NC State with a degree in Biomedical Engineering and Sophia tricked me into doing this food truck madness.
2. What sparked your interest in starting your food truck
Sophia: I always admit the truck was my quarter life crisis. I’ve had many interests and could never quite figure out a singular “passion”. I know I drove my college career counselor insane. I ended up in the business school because it kept my options open, and chose to get a masters in accounting because it was practical and useful and I knew I would be employable. Two and a half years into working at a Big 4 Accounting firm, I had learned a ton, but also realized I didn’t love it enough to be in the field for the rest of my life. I asked myself, so what else can I do that has value? What are my other skills? I like food, and I love people. The rest is history as they say.
3. Who are you most influenced by?
Sophia: I’m most influenced by my parents. They came to this country barely knowing the language with no more than two suitcases between them. They graduated with master degrees, found jobs, bought a house, and provided me with everything I needed and more. The bravery and no-quit attitude my parents possess gives me inspiration on a daily basis.
Sunny: I would have to say the person that influences me the most is my mom. This doesn't mean that she'll ever admit I'm the obedient daughter she's always wanted, in fact, she will most likely tell you that the grey hairs on her head is due to worrying about me. This just means she is the strongest lady I know. The career I am able to pursue today is all because of the sacrifices she and my dad have made. My dad will tell you that without my mother, he would not have pursued his masters and be on the career path he is on now. She continues to be my inspiration by pushing me to succeed so that I can one day provide her the same comfort she provided me growing up.
4. What was your first job and how long did you hold that position?
Sunny: I was a server at Capital City Club on top of the Progress Energy building in Downtown Raleigh. I got my first taste of fine dining. This is where I learned what an amuse bouche and palette cleanser are.
Sophia: My first official job was during the summer before college. I worked as a tech at a genetics lab at Duke University. Unofficially though, my first job was for my dad as a textbook editor. My dad is a math professor at a local community college and edited textbooks for publishing houses on the side. He used to pay me to do all the problems in math textbooks he was editing to see if there were any mistakes in the answer keys. I actually didn’t mind it. So yes, I’ve always been a nerd.
5. Can you share a career defining moment with us?
Sunny: You can pick between coming home crying from a job I couldn't stand or getting fired from a job due to a miscommunication between the manager and the owner.
6. What were your initial goals with your food? How have they evolved?
Sophia: Before we got started, Sunny and I both wrote our food “manifestos”. Through that, we discovered our goals and inspirations were very in-line with each other. We wanted to bring quality, but fun and creative Asian food to customers in a non-intimidating way and connect with our community. We haven’t strayed far from that goal and don’t plan to.
7. What do you think is the most important life skill you learned from being an entrepreneur?
Sophia: The most important life skill I’ve learned through this experience is knowing the difference between being aware of what people think of you, and letting people or society exert their expectations on you. It is paramount - especially in the service industry - that as a business owner and a boss, you are aware of what your customers, your employees, and your peers think of you. Being an entrepreneur is all about the market and catering to others and solving problems. Listening, evolving, being aware and flexible is how you survive.
Simultaneously, it is equally as imperative that you not let others (individuals or society as a whole) sway you from your goals or dreams or define who you are.
8. Where do you hope to be in 5 years?
Sunny: RULING THE WORLD! Or at least running a Dumpling empire!
9. What is a typical day like for you?
Sunny: It starts with waking up and rolling over to my phone to trying to remember what day it is. If we have a shift that day, then we go to the commissary to pack up the truck. My favorite part of the day is when we have a shift that is so busy that we have no down time! However, this usually leads us to freaking out about not having enough food for the next shift, which leads us to dumpling making. If we get done early enough, I sneak off to Triangle Rock Club to get a quick work out in. When I finally get home, I usually am super tired but super hungry because I forgot to eat all day!! The joy of owning a business.
10. What was the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far in the process of pursuing your dreams?
Sophia: The biggest obstacle so far personally has been my own fear of failure. There will always be a reason not to take the risk and there will always be reasons to doubt yourself, but just commit to it and do it and don’t stop until you’ve succeeded or failed.
I always think of the Theodore Roosevelt quote: ““It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
11. What is the best piece of advice you have received?
Sophia: To fake it till you make it. And don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way.
12. When do you get your best ideas?
Sophia: I get my best ideas in the shower or while driving. Its uninterrupted time when I’m doing a routine task and away from technology. My brain always seems to put things together during that time.
Sunny: While I’m driving.
13. Can you share with us one time that you failed and what you learned from that failure?
Sunny: First year business owning was really hard. I wouldn't call it a failure, but we had a lot of unexpected expenses due to naivety and a lot of bad luck. The list starts with: a new remanned engine to replace our engine that over heated, a new water heater to replace the one that exploded during winter (because water expands when frozen), a new generator, and I haven't even mentioned all the down time we had to take when the truck was in the shop when our new remanned engine continuously failed. The most infamous engine failure was on national television during the filming of "The Great Food Truck Race" on the Food Network. If you continue watching the episode, you'll see that we didn't have time to cry, only time to problem solve so we found a tow truck to continue our day. The reason why we were quick on our feet was because, in real life, problem solving is what we have to do everyday. What we learned from our first year is that there will always be obstacles but our job as business owners is to focus on the solutions instead.
14. How do you unwind?
Sophia: I unwind with anything creative, crafty or artsy. I love to diy and use my hands.
Sunny: Candy crush, climbing and soccer.
15. What would you tell someone else who wants to start their own business?
Sophia: Find good mentors - both business and life mentors. If you can find them in the same person, great. If they are separate support systems, that’s ok too. Just make sure they are people who cheer you on all the time, but also let you know when you are way off track. Also, be willing to admit to others and yourself when you are way off track, wrong, or have shortcomings. Stubbornness and pride will only hurt your business.
16. What do you hope people take away from your story?
Sunny: Dream Big. That’s the one lesson I never learned until I started the truck.