Be Inspired | Do Good
John Park has a mission in life, and it is to let everyone know where the good food is. He never sought out to purposefully create a foodie community in the Roanoke Valley; it just grew from his pure love for good food.
At five years old, John and his family uprooted their life in South Korea for Northern Virginia. As a Virginia Tech alum, John not only left school with a degree in Financial Planning but also with his future wife. Serendipitously, John and his wife were both able to find work in Roanoke and fell in love with the city. They delved into community involvement – joining social groups and professional associations to get themselves out there.
John is most well-known in the Roanoke Valley as the resident food evangelist under his social media moniker, “what better way is there to get information to your friends rather than businesses telling you directly what they’re great at?” The Hungry Asian had humble beginnings where John shared restaurants he, his wife and their friends visited around Roanoke online, “I didn’t get into doing all of this to become a promoter of restaurants, it just happened by nature. […] people started dubbing me the person to go to if you need to find something to eat.” Through the Hungry Asian, John has become the ‘go-to’ foodie, providing testimonials and recommendations for restaurants across Roanoke to residents and travelers alike. It was easy for him to build an online community, “what I love about platforms like Twitter and Instagram is the ability to meet other folks who are like-minded. If you’re into food, it’s easy to find other people who are into food. Whereas on Facebook, you’re limited by your friends and groups.” John notes that he’s made many friends from Twitter, some of whom have become genuine friendships in real life.. And he wants you to know he’s not trying to sell you anything; he just wants to channel his passion,
With building a brand, John has had to uncover his brand’s mission, “I never thought I’d be someone who promotes businesses but it just happened.” As with any business, creating a community and voice is to understand your audience and your voice. For John, he primarily uses his social media channels to connect with his community but has been challenged to find a balance of promotion and genuine appreciation, “I had to try to find a way to get [my] message across while still seeming authentic and organic.” He does have one strict rule for his brand, “ [I don’t] talk negatively about anyone on my public forums. I don’t feel like that’s my role. If I feel like a restaurant or establishment doesn’t have something positive or good, regarding service or food, I just don’t talk about them.” He’s very adamant on this rule professionally and personally. This point hit home for him after watching a about addictive technology, “when you feel the need to pick up your phone or post something, make love the test. If it doesn’t provide love in some manner, then don’t post it. It’s about sharing love and positive things versus negative.”
His simple food evangelist mission spawned a series of guerilla-style events in Roanoke, from Monday Funday, pop-up dinners to his signature Food Truck Rodeos. The Food Truck Rodeos began in 2013 when John and his wife noticed the growth of food trucks and food truck rodeos in big cities, “We thought why can’t Roanoke do the same thing on a smaller scale?” After finding the right spot in the parking lot of , the Rodeos have been a success ever since with between 20-30 food trucks in attendance for each Rodeo. What’s unique about the Roanoke Rodeos? Food truck owners aren’t charged a fee to participate. Instead, they are asked to make a small donation to benefit the .
As Roanoke’s resident foodie, John has a couple nuggets of wisdom to offer restaurants:
- Consistent social media presence: “For businesses who promote on social media, be consistent. I see a lot of gaps between when restaurants post. Don’t let it lapse. A lot of people are looking at Facebook pages instead of web pages. They might question if you’re open and might go look at something else instead.”
- Good pictures of your food goes a long way: “Social media is visually driven. Please take good pictures of your food. Don’t take it under fluorescent lights or in the back room. Take photos under natural light or even use filters, because a lot of times the photos that come off your camera don’t look great. You want to sell food to people. You want to make it look good and make people want to come to buy and eat it. Keep in mind visual presentation as well as natural light.”
Roanoke is at what John terms “a tipping point” with so many businesses setting up shop, from kombucha companies, breweries to Earth Fare. What you can do as a resident is, “embrace these businesses, make them feel welcome. If you don’t, who knows when another business is going to show up.” As for John’s advice to his community in Roanoke? To focus on work-life balance. “Many of us are workaholics. You need to think about yourself and your family.” His suggestion is to, “put down the phone after a certain time of night. Go on little dates to ensure your [partner] is not being ignored. And exercise.” He also wants to spread the love of Roanoke, “one of the things I love about Roanoke is that it’s open and embracing of new things and the barrier to entry is very low. Once you get to know the city, you fall in love.”
John is grateful he is where he is today professionally, for the Hungry Asian, but specifically (and especially) for his wife, “she balances out my life. […] a lot of the things I dream up would not get off the ground without her.” He’s also pretty fired up about the amount of ethnic food on Williamson Road. A few weeks ago, John, his wife, and few friends went there on a taco crawl. For those who are interested, John recommends them all including Taco Riendo, Mi Tapatia, and El Rodeo on Williamson to name a few.
Listen to John’s full podcast here.
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Written by: Emma Shulist
Photo credit: Bella Muse Photography