At Daniel Thaiger, a food truck that serves “West Coast-style” gourmet burgers, you can get juicy burgers with beef patties cooked exactly the way you like, gooey cheese, fresh vegetables, and the brand’s very own secret sauce.
Most burger lovers are probably familiar with this food truck, which took Bangkok by storm when they first rolled out and parked themselves on Sukhumvit Soi 38, causing queues to form up the block and disappointed faces when they inevitably sold out of burgers long before the end of the night.
The truck’s owner is Californian Mark Falcioni. He first moved to Bangkok from Los Angeles in 2003 and worked as a volunteer teacher. He and his wife, Honey, opened the food truck in 2013 and named it after their oldest son, Daniel Thai.
Here is the interview with the man himself, Mark Falcioni:
How and why did you start this food truck business?
From 2003 to 2011, I often traveled back and forth between Bangkok and LA. It was one of those things where, by the end of your trip, you just want American food that’s really good and a burger seems like a great idea. However, I could never really find what I wanted here in Thailand.
I started thinking that Bangkok was way too big, with way too many people, and way too many expats to not have a good burger joint. That’s the one thing stuck in my mind.
I’m an American and any of us can slap together a pretty good burger. I was just confident that I could do what everyone else was doing and do it better.
The food truck trend was really booming in big cities around the world. People were serving food out of trucks, but not like crappy old trucks that are dirty. It’s real gourmet food out of a nice truck.
I was aware that Bangkok did not really have a proper food truck, so I had the idea of making burgers and launching the food truck trend here as a way to catch people attention.
I thought that would be a good draw for people, and then use that draw to educate people about what a proper burger is — one where every ingredient matters, it’s not just crappy ground beef thrown together with crappy cheese and crappy bacon.
Every ingredient is intended for a specific reason within that whole burger experience. It’s either texture, flavor, saltiness, sweet, and so on and so forth.
Were you a chef before starting Daniel Thaiger?
I’m not a chef by trade. I was working for a big multi-unit management corporation that’s within the food industry.
Were you one of the first food trucks here in Bangkok?
We are known as one of the first. I know, at that time, there was maybe one or two going. Although, we are responsible for launching this trend. At least, that’s what we’re told. That’s what all the articles written about us say.
Can you tell me what makes Daniel Thaiger burgers better than other places’?
Like I say, every single thing that goes into the burger is quality. There’s not one ingredient that we purchase or use that we don’t endorse ourselves.
We’re giving our best and that’s by using the best ingredients for our consumers and trying to keep it at a reasonable price. So it’s a twofold thing for us — quality and value.
Daniel Thaiger’s “Mr. Steve Burger”
What’s special about your burger patty?
It’s made fresh daily. We ascribe to the school of thought of upscale American burger concepts, where freshness of the burger is of the utmost importance.
We never freeze our beef so it’s always fresh. We keep it in low temperatures. It’s ground fresh daily and the patties are all hand-pressed by our burger presser. A lot of love and effort goes into doing that.
A lot of time people do not want to do the really hard work, day in and day out. It would be much easier to have a full-time staff come in one day of the week, press all the patties, and stick them in the freezer. But we choose not to do that.
That’s one difference people see in our product.
Tell me about your secret Thaiger sauce?
Just something we came up with. I think In-N-Out Burger [American fast food chain] has a similar sauce on their burgers. Being born and raised in California, that chain is our top comfort food. It’s close to most Californian hearts.
So here at Daniel Thaiger, we are re-creating that kind of West Coast-style burger with our own secret Thaiger sauce. It’s got a good balance of some very popular condiments that people put on burgers.
It’s kind of nostalgic for me. It reminds me of the West Coast. A little slice of my hometown in every Daniel Thaiger burger.
Beside the Thaiger sauce, there’s also our homemade barbecue sauce. It’s Thai whiskey barbecue sauce that goes into our Cowboy Burger. A lot of love goes into that as well.
Daniel Thaiger’s burgers in their signature wax paper wrapper
Your original home, or parking spot, was at Sukhumvit soi 38 till the middle of last year, but now you are based in Sukhumvit Soi 30 on a “permanent” basis. Tell me about it?
I had heard on the news that there was a crackdown on soi 38. It was on the news a lot. I don’t really know all the ins and outs of it. I just knew they were closing down as a street food soi. So we made an earlier exit than most to find a new permanent home.
Has that affected your business?
I think the magic of Soi 38 is that nothing will ever be like that ever again. The glory days of Soi 38. It was great while it lasted.
There were a lot of people, a lot of food. Soi 38 had a certain magic to it.
You just walked down the street and saw the familiar faces of the vendors that people have seen for 40 years.
I don’t think anything in Bangkok will ever be like that again. Soi 38 was very famous internationally as well for people that have visited Thailand.
People want that street food experience. It was really one of the hubs. It was really fun while it lasted. But all good things don’t last forever.
How long were you at Soi 38?
At least a year and a half. I remember when we first started out there, Coconuts was the first news site to cover us.
I guess someone tipped them off and this young man came to the food truck and had our burger.
He wrote the story and soon we were getting a lot of Likes and attention on our Facebook page. This was in 2013.
What’s the best part about running this business?
The best part, like any other good food business, is happy customers, good feedback and winning awards and accolades. Being voted by the people as having the best burger has been incredible. There’s nothing that can substitute that feeling of happiness and satisfaction.
I don’t think you go into the business if your sole goal is not to make the consumers happy. We’ve done a pretty good job of achieving that.
Although it’s hard work, every once in awhile, we google our name and read what people have written on our Facebook page, feedbacks, or TripAdvisor. It’s been overwhelmingly good. So there’s the satisfaction.
What’s the hardest part?
The most difficult part is running what is basically a catering business everyday. It’s not easy driving the truck to a specific location everyday. You have to take some time to prepare beforehand and set your truck up in some solid location.
You are essentially transferring all your products to another location and then cooking on-site there.
That can be difficult because you are transporting everything. Elaborate preparation work is involved. You have to make sure your checklist has everything you need. Sometimes you forget certain products. It can be problematic.
And obviously running a food truck business in Thailand, you have rainy season several months out of the year. Given that you are out there, outdoors, as a food truck, that can be challenging.
If it starts raining, what do you do? Do customer still come in the rain?
We’re working on getting a better coverage for our customers in all our locations. Customers still come in the rain. But people are always free to give us a call, place their orders ahead of time and pick them up. That happens a lot when it rains.
Do you have any guilty pleasure foods? Do you sneak off once in awhile to have McDonald’s?
Every once in awhile, I indulge myself with a Big Mac or a Filet-O-Fish at McDonald’s.
Daniel Thaiger now has a permanent spot at Sukhumvit soi 30/1 every Tuesday to Friday from 4.30 – 9.30pm. The food truck also stops at Sathorn Square every Wednesday from 11am to 2pm. For more information, check their Facebook page.