Roy Choi, nicknamed “Papi” and “El Guapo,” is a Korean food truck pioneer who is best known as the founder of the taco truck Kogi, a Korean fusion taco truck that has hooked Korean barbeque-loving Angelenos.
Choi has also been the featured chef at high-profile venues such as Embassy Suites and the Beverly Hilton.
Fellow chef Anthony Bourdain said that:
“Roy Choi first changed the world when he elevated the food-truck concept from “roach coach” to highly sought-after, ultra-hot-yet-democratic rolling restaurant.”
He was born in South Korea in 1970. He moved to LA with his parents when he was 2 years old.
When he was young, his parents owned a Korean restaurant named ”Silver Garden” in Anaheim, California, for three years.
He said about his childhood:
”I was a latchkey kid, from 4 or 5 years old.”
Choi went on to say:
”My parents worked and sold and hustled; they were gone from the morning, and I pretty much took care of myself.”
Roy grew up in LA and struggled with drug addiction as a teenager. Choi was addicted to crack for a short time, marijuana and gambling, which lasted about 3 years.
During an interview, he declared:
”Gambling hit me at like 22, 21.”
”And it was three years of the darkest time of my life, but it started out just all fireworks and pom-poms, you know?”
He graduated with honors from USC with a BA in Cinema from the School of Cinematic Arts.
At 24, confused about his life, Roy became very interested in Emeril Lagasse’s “Essence of Emeril” show. Emeril Lagasse is an American cookbook author, television personality, restaurateur, celebrity chef, and National Best Recipe award winner for his ‘Turkey and Hot Sausage Chili’ recipe.
“Essence of Emeril” show inspired Choi to enroll in culinary school. He said:
“Emeril saved my life.”
In 2001, Choi started working for Hilton Hotels. In 2007, Roy became chef de cuisine at the Beverly Hilton.
In 2008, in partnership with Caroline and Mark Manguera, Roy launched Kogi Korean BBQ-To-Go. With Kogi BBQ, Roy is serving top-quality food at a great price.
In 2010, Food and Wine named him Best New Chef.
In 2011 and 2016, Time had included Roy in their TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world.
In 2019, he hosted and produced a TV series called – ”Broken Bread” in LA.
Chef Roy Choi is married to Caroline Shin-Manguera.
Roy has a daughter named Kaelyn.
On November 5, 2013, he published a book titled – ”L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food.” The book was co-written with Natasha Phan and Tien Nguyen.
In this book, he wrote more than 85 recipes that meld the overlapping flavors and traditions of L.A. – including kimchi, homemade chorizo, tempura potato pancakes, and Korean fried chicken.
”L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food” also explains the culture of LA and how it has changed since the 1970s.
His book was a New York Times Bestseller in 2013.
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”You can be upside down in your life or just on the road to nowhere and completely find yourself. It happened to me.”
“I’m looking for ways to really intensify vegetables, making them really simple with lots of flavor, like Korean side dishes.”
”We are going to take a look at the broken systems in our country and take off to find the good people on the ground doing things about changing those systems. A quest for goodness.”
“Instead of forcing your customer to come to your restaurant, why not bring the restaurant to them?”
”I wasn’t always the most professional looking/acting dude in the world, so I’d go into restaurants, get treated not that well, kind of like crap.”
“There’s the bad-boy image, but they’re not listening to what I’m saying all the way through. I cross worlds, and I don’t pass judgment on anyone.”
”Throughout high school, I worked as a busboy, dishwasher, teppanyaki grill cleaner, salad bar assembler, and breakdown guy.”
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His career inspired the 2014 Jon Favreau-directed film titled – ”Chef,” on which Roy was also a technical adviser. Jon Favreau is an American actor and director who played Pete Becker on the series Friends.
Moreover, Jon had a role as an extra in the 1992 feature Hoffa. Favreau made his directorial debut with the 2001 feature Made. His other acting credits include I Love You, Man, The Break-Up, and Very Bad Things. Jon Favreau rose to fame with his lead role alongside Vince Vaughn in the film Swingers (1996), which he co-produced and wrote.
His favorite childhood memory is making dumplings at the age of 8 at his family’s own restaurant.
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Roy Choi – Net Worth
Choi made most of his wealth from managing his restaurants. Roy currently runs several LA-area restaurants, including:
- Pot at the Line Hotel – located in Koreatown;
- A-Frame – built in a former IHOP;
- Sunny Spot;
In addition, he is a co-founder of the food truck movement Kogi Korean BBQ-To-Go, which grossed about $2 million in 2009, with a check average of $13. In 2019, Kogi is generating more than $850 million in revenue per year.
In addition, he consulted on the film “Chef” and developed The Chef Show with actor-director Jon Favreau. Choi also maintains a blog on which he posts amazing recipes.
In 2015, Roy and Daniel Patterson opened a restaurant called LocoL in Watts, LA. He also worked for Hilton Hotels, and published a book in 2013.
Therefore, chef Roy Choi has an estimated net worth of $3 million.
Featured image source – © Guliver / Getty Images.
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