This article appeared in the February 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Cities are encouraged to consider adapting the unique enterprise of East Atlanta’s Global Grub Collective.
A little over a year ago Q Trinh had an idea. What if she created a space where street food could thrive, just without the street, and the inclement weather, and the health code violations? Q’s big idea was to bring indoors the uniqueness, vitality and entrepreneurship of street food without the negatives. So on Sept. 14, 2015, she transported her Vietnamese Banh Mi, Boba and Pho business, We Suki Suki, into the corner of an 1,800 square foot space in East Atlanta Village and began to recruit individuals interested in opening a food stall business. Today, We Suki Suki now anchors a vibrant street food emporium that is home to 20 micro-eateries.
Last November, GMA’s Chris Higdon introduced me to Q and her innovative food service concepts.What I found on my trip to We Suki Suki and the collective, and my interview with Q, was perhaps the most exciting innovation in food service in my three decades of downtown development. Q had created a way for small aspiring chefs to dip their toes into the food service business without having to quit their day jobs or put a large amount of capital at risk.
Q Trinh opened the Global Grub Collective in 2015 and has since served as creative and mentor for her partners.
As there are several articles that give background on Q, I want to focus here on the core innovations and ideas that could help Georgia’s cities create their own version of A Global Grub Collective.
Shared, Flexible Space
Q’s first flash of insight was that most restaurants specialize around a specific dining experience and time—breakfast, breakfast and lunch, lunch and dinner, etc., and often not every day, meaning that expensive real estate and food service equipment lies fallow much of the time. Q’s original idea when she launched her Pho business was to find a restaurant that did not serve lunch to allow her to use the underutilized space. After her successful launch, she then began to look for space to bring other food businesses into a common and more efficient space. Today, many of the collective’s vendors, or “partners,” as she calls them, switch off with one another at different times of day or different days of the week, including Midnight Marauder, an 11:59 p.m.-4 a.m. gourmet hot dog vendor that is the “Defender of the Late Night Snack!” The collective’s building is in use 24/7, ensuring almost constant, positive activity in the village at this one small restaurant location.The collective is operated like a timeshare, with overhead, rent, utilities, permitting and other operating expenses divided into “timeshares.” Most partners share equipment, but some of the four permanent partners (those vendors who have shown they can and want to operate a food service business) now have their own equipment. Those partners that are not permanent are called “Flippers” by Q as their vendor space or stalls are flipped with other vendors.
Patrons can enjoy a variety of food from 20 micro-eateries.
Based on her business success, Q encourages her partners to keep their menu simple and limited, and to bring to the mix a unique, home-style street food that is authentic to their culture of origin. For Roti, home-style is vegetarian Indian soul food, and for Sausages Gone Wild, the Yen to Roti’s Yang, home-style means handcrafted wild game sausages. When you enter the collective, depending on the time of day and day of the week, you can have a completely different cultural dining experience, with unique and delicious hand crafted food. Yet, each offering is in and of itself beautifully simple. Q’s motto: “Do one thing well and you will succeed.”
Each partner must have their own LLC, must deduct taxes, must be “Serve Safe” certified and have their own Liability Insurance. Though there is only one health permit for the collective, requiring that all partners be “Serve Safe” certified means that at any given time there are eight food safety managers at the vendor stalls. After the first year the collective passed its health inspection, no small feat with all that wonderfully chaotic street food goodness! As a sidebar, Q has also limited the types of equipment in use. Within the building are no open flames and no deep fryers so that commercial grade venting and fire suppression are not required—brilliant. And, there are no freezers, so all food has to be brought in and used every day. Q sets the highest standards, which creates some turnover or “churn,” a good thing as successful partners mature and prosper while those whose idea or execution are less successful make way for other entrepreneurs. As Q says, “Not everyone is ready for prime time.” This open attitude to experimentation means that an aspiring chef can “try it on” and in doing so create an unexpected experience for regular patrons of the Collective.
Q is not only the creative force behind the collective, she is also its managing partner. Q personally mentors the partners, assisting them with meeting the strict guidelines for participation, developing and refining their offerings and assessing their strengths and weaknesses. Q is both a passionate creative (her mother is into the arts) and a serious business entrepreneur (her father was a mathematician) so she is uniquely suited to mentor both on the creative and business side of the enterprise.
Adapting this Very Unique Enterprise to Other Georgia Cities
Each partner must have their own LLC, must deduct taxes, must be “Serve Safe” certified and have their own Liability Insurance.
“My biggest partner is my landlord,” Q says. Of all the keen insights and inspirations Q shared with me the one that resonated the most was how important her landlord has been to the success of the collective. For Q, her landlord has been an active partner, engaged in supporting, facilitating and understanding this creative, outside-the-box approach to food service. For many of Georgia’s cities a DDA might be an ideal landlord for such an enterprise, if creating a place where local, small plate, handcrafted food creators could “dip their toes in the water” was something a Georgia city might want to bring into being. Too often we in the downtown biz go for the big score, the signature restaurant fitted out with the latest industrial-grade stainless steel equipment, the trendiest menu and the highest probability of failure with all our collective eggs in their one basket. The genius of Q’s big idea is that it allows the space and the offerings to be simple and flexible and not wildly expensive to get off the ground. So perhaps you don’t need a place with 20 food vendors, but how about starting with a space for three aspiring local cooks?
Back in 1981, a few of us in Rome rallied around a friend who, while working for a run-of-the-mill pizza place, made some unusually addictive vegetarian sandwiches all of his own creation, and we encouraged him to go out on his own. We helped him open a small takeout restaurant in downtown Rome on a veritable shoestring, where he used a second hand pizza oven and a household-grade microwave to produce these uniquely delicious sandwiches. That business, Schroeder’s New Deli, just celebrated its 35th anniversary. It all started with a big idea in small downtown space with an even smaller budget.
In 1,200 words one cannot convey the variety, vitality and energy of A Global Grub Collective. If you are interested in exploring the concept of creating a place for small food vendors in an underutilized downtown building, and growing your own local food collective, the place to start your journey is to put 479-B Flat Shoals Ave. SE Atlanta, GA 30316 into your GPS. Drive to We Suki Suki, order a bowl of Pho and a Banh Mi, and watch the magic happen all around you. Of course you could also go to wesukisuki.com, but then you would miss one of the best meals you have ever had and not experience Q’s big idea first hand. And just so you know, Pho is made fresh to order and to be eaten immediately. Whatever you do, don’t ask Q for Pho “to go.”
** For those who don’t know what these Vietnamese food items are, Boba is bubble tea, sweet and milky and delicious with fruity bubble gelatin confections sitting at the bottom of the glass, Banh Mi is like the best Asian-spiced BBQ sandwich you have ever had, and Pho is a bowl of the most intensely delicious broth into which fresh veggies, herbs, rice noodles and fresh-sliced beef are poached in the broth right before the bowl is brought to you.
Check out to learn more about Q and the Global Grub Collective: