The seed planted in the SF State MBA program becomes a mini Filipino food empire
The life of Evan Kidera could be a movie. Take a foodie movie like 2014’s comedy-drama “Chef,” add a helping of family and friendship and a pinch of scrappiness, and you have its story. Kidera is the business brain behind the Filipino fusion food truck turned into a traditional restaurant Mr. Sisig, which he founded with high school friend Gil Payumo in 2010. At the time, Kidera (BA, ’04; MBA, ’14) was earning his MBA at San Francisco State University and Chief Payumo , who developed the restaurant’s signature menu, was a sous chef at a hotel. Now the duo are set to open their third restaurant in San Francisco’s Ferry Building this summer.
Evan Kidera (photo by Noah Berger)
Kidera’s slice of Señor Sisig’s story marinated quietly for years. He grew up around food: his father, a Japanese immigrant, worked as a sushi chef in San Francisco for years before opening his own restaurant in 1995. Kidera remembers helping his father close at We Be Sushi on Valencia Street when he was 5 years old. Old. Nearly two decades later, Kidera’s life has come full circle – he opened Señor Sisig’s first permanent location a block from where his father worked.
The Valencia Street restaurant is a kind of tribute to his father, who died when Kidera was 13 years old. “I have a lot of connection to the Mission through my father’s work,” he said. “There’s a lot of history and emotion that comes with the city and obviously the places and what I’m doing at this point to continue what my dad did.”
Although food and restaurants were a big part of his childhood, it wasn’t something he thought of doing professionally himself. “I wanted to play baseball — to be the next Barry Bonds,” he said. One thing he thought about all the time was money. He remembers his father teaching him how to make sushi, but all Kidera cared about was the price of the fish and the profit he would make. “I liked the bustle,” he said. “I like to see growth and build something.”
A business degree was the obvious next step for the future food truck mogul, but he didn’t get there without a struggle. After his father passed away, his grades plummeted, he says. San Francisco State took a chance even though they didn’t have the correct transcripts. Looking back, he says, being accepted into SF State when other schools would have turned him down was one of the greatest blessings of his life.
All through college, he told himself he would consider any type of business, but not food. “I just wanted to be my own man. I didn’t want to follow everything my dad did,” he said. After graduation, Kidera found himself in a job that lacked mobility. He was frustrated with his job search because he wasn’t getting the jobs he felt he deserved, so he took the initiative and applied for SF State’s MBA program, where he was accepted and started in the fall of 2008.
Around the same time, Kidera took a life-changing trip to Los Angeles. While there, he ate at the legendary Kogi, the Korean taco truck run by chef Roy Choi. Kidera was amazed by the experience. “Usually you see long lines of people waiting for food in a truck after leaving the club around 1 a.m.,” he said. “But I had never seen lines of people waiting for food in broad daylight.”
It was his enlightening moment: a food truck could be profitable, and he wouldn’t have to be a chef. At first he thought of serving ramen, but after choosing his fried Gil Payumo as his partner, they landed on something new and different. Payumo grew up eating sisig, a Filipino dish consisting of minced and seasoned pieces of pork and chicken liver. He went one step further with sisig tacos, and Mexican-Filipino fusion was born.
They launched their food truck in the middle of Kidera’s MBA program – which kept Kidera busy but provided plenty of ideas and inspiration. “All they talk about [in class] I apply it in real time,” he said. “The synergy between the two was great, and I attribute that experience to a lot of our success.”
The couple bought their first truck on Craigslist in 2010. Almost two years later, they added another. Eight years later, they had a small fleet of six trucks. Riding the food truck wave early paid off, Kidera says. “Within the food truck scene, we’ve been able to carve out a place for ourselves,” he said. “We came in early, but we also had experience not only with food, but also with marketing and branding. We were young, hip and people were attracted to that.
Switching to brick and mortar was part of his plan from the start. It just took until 2018 for Kidera to find the right location. Now they have a second restaurant in downtown Oakland and the Ferry Building Restaurant – and more – on the way.
“In our hearts and our roots, we will always be a food truck. This is who we are,” he said. “We are not going to give up on this. But we’re also focused on growth and other directions, and that includes wholesale products at some point and bringing this brand outside of the Bay Area.
The success of their business is more important than any profit: they have made Filipino food visible. “Filipino food wasn’t on the menu 15 years ago,” Kidera said. “It’s getting closer to a tipping point where it can become something big, but I don’t even think it’s there yet. For us, I think what drives us is that we still have a lot work to do, not just for Señor Sisig in our business and our family, but for Filipino food in general.