Bui’s Lunch Truck is marking its 30th anniversary as the breakfast and lunch beacon for hungry Penn students. Nestled catty corner to Wawa, many Penn students pass Bui’s Food truck on a daily basis. But how many people actually know the person behind this famous food truck’s facade?
The person behind the counter is the iconic yet elusive Mrs. Bui. Getting time with Mrs. Bui was no easy task, especially considering she has customers streaming in from the beginning to the end of her day.
Mrs. Bui insisted that the interview be held only a few steps away from the truck, right at 38th and Walnut. She said she would prefer to stay on her feet; no coffee chats allowed here, not when Mrs. Bui is on the job. Bui’s Lunch Truck, however, didn’t start with the Mrs. Bui we see today. The truck was started by her parents in 1988, following their emigration from Vietnam to the United States.
“It was a communist country, Vietnam. They wouldn’t let you out, so we kind of, like, escaped,” Mrs. Bui says. “We didn’t all go together because it wasn’t allowed.”
Mrs. Bui says that it was her mom’s idea to start the food truck as a way for her father to earn income despite not knowing how to speak English. When the truck first opened, it didn’t even have a name.
“It was simple, just a great truck,” Mrs. Bui says. “People kept asking us what the name of the truck was, so my mom just said “Bui”, which is her maiden name.”
Just like the name of the truck, the menu has not changed and has remained extremely simple for the entirety of the truck’s existence.
“It’s just basic: egg, bacon, cheese, steak,” Mrs. Bui says. “The special we put on later...Number 2, called the 'Mrs. Bui,' it’s got spinach, tomato, and Bui sauce.”
When asked if the “Mrs. Bui” was her favorite, Mrs. Bui laughs. She replies that the name of this dish was also inspired by her parents, but “a lot of people like it.”
Mrs. Bui jokes that, for the most part, she doesn’t know people on a first name basis. However, she said she is starting to recognize some names simply because the truck now accepts Venmo.
Even if Mrs. Bui doesn’t know you, many Penn students certainly know her and remember Bui’s Lunch Truck even beyond their time spent on campus. Some have even gone almost every day from freshman move–in to graduation.
“We had a few come back on their wedding day and take a picture with us and all that,” Mrs. Bui says. “We catered one of my customer’s [weddings] also and actually drove the truck to the venue.”
Does she cater weddings on a regular basis? To that, Mrs. Bui responds: “Only one. It was a special one and that’s it.”
While keeping calm during the craziness of the lunch rush would appear difficult to most, Mrs. Bui insists, “It’s easy!” She motions me inside the truck to prove that she has the operation down to a science.
It’s a quaint steel structure, one that has remained unchanged since the start of the business. Mrs. Bui insists that I not take a picture because she hadn’t cleaned up for the day. She motions around to the small cashier station, the ingredients in a steel cooler with ice. She explains that this is the old fashioned way to cool ingredients, unlike modern generators.
Mrs. Bui makes it clear that she doesn’t need any help running the business. Given the truck’s successful 30 year history thus far, it will probably be open for 30 more with the exact same menu, name, and woman ready and waiting for any customer who comes her way at the same corner on 38th and Walnut.