On the morning of June 6 this year, Benjamin Pierce, a Filipino native, found his family’s food truck parked in front of his mother’s home in Salt Lake City, Utah, vandalized with racist, hateful messages. Immediately readable were the words “f*ck chinks” in white paint sprayed against the black truck. Looking closely, messing the World Famous Yum Yum Food Truck logo were the words “Leave our country.”
Ben wanted to simply ignore the incident. But its message of Asian hate stung. “With a message like that, you know, go back home,” he told Fox news, voice shaking, “…I’ve been here longer. My kids were born here. So that’s a tough one.”
It was not the first time their food truck was targeted by racists. Two of their generators have been stolen, one after the other, even before their business started operations August of last year.
The truck is no ordinary vehicle to the Pierces. It is home to their family’s source of income, and they take pride in the fact that they serve Filipino food in the “Land of Opportunity.”
The vandalism incident made it to the headlines of TV and radio programs in Utah, after Ben posted about it on their food truck’s Facebook account. Sympathizers of the family showed their support via the food truck’s social media accounts. Identity Graphx, a vehicle wrap business, gave the food truck a fresh coat of paint.
Famous figures like NBA star Jordan Clarkson, who is half Filipino, assisted in restoring the business and openly shared his support on Twitter: “It hurt me deeply to see that Salt Lake’s @yumyumasian food truck was recently vandalized,” he wrote. “I know the pain that hateful language and racism causes.”
Through the support of their community and the Pierces’ fighting spirit, the World Famous Yum Yum Food Truck was back in business in no time, serving its fans at the Philippine Independence Day celebration in Jordan Park. “We are not going to have hatred stop us from sharing our culture,” the Pierces wrote on the food truck’s Facebook page.
Moving to the US
The story of the Pierces is the story of many OFWs who want to give their family a better life. Ben’s mother, Erlinda Gutierrez, a Dagupeño, used to work as a seamstress in Saudi Arabia. It was where she met her American husband, Paul Pierce. They eventually moved together in the US in the 1980s.
But it wasn’t until 1992 when Ben and his two older sisters followed their mother to Washington State. Ben, then 13 years old, admits in an interview with ANCX that he had to go through huge adjustments at that time. “It was crazy kasi hindi naman ako marunong mag-Ingles,” he recalls. “I came in the summertime. It was so hard because I didn’t get to meet the kids from school. And it’s not like in the Philippines na everyone’s outside.”
Thanks to basketball, Ben later on was able to connect with the other kids in the neighborhood. Because of the sheer number of Pinoys in Washington, it felt like home after some time.
Coming to Utah in 1995, however, was a different story. There were not too many Filipinos and racism was clear and present—Ben says he can attest to witnessing this firsthand. But while there was that unwritten rule to “stick with your own people,” Ben says he was never bothered by the aggression.
The youngest of three children, Ben says his mom was supposed to send him home to the Philippines when he was 16. Though he knew he was a good kid, Mrs. Pierce was worried he might get into trouble. Even when he wasn’t doing anything, people would “look at you as if you’re already guilty of something,” he says.
But Ben was no pushover. He was not the type of kid who’d give others a chance to bully him. “I’m Filipino, I have tough skin. I’m too strong for that, so I don’t get bullied, no,” he says with a laugh. “But if I did, especially when I was younger, I won’t take nothing from anybody. If you bully me, I’d bully you back. I don’t play that game and stuff like that.”
Getting into the food biz
Ben ended up staying in Utah for good where he eventually built a career and raised a family. He earned a Business Administration degree from the University of Phoenix and eventually managed 10 Burger Kings and six Papa John’s. He married a half-Filipina, half-American, and is now a father to four children.
Despite leaving the Philippines at a young age, Ben says he’s always been a big fan of Filipino food. In fact, their family would participate in fairs and summer events, Filipino gatherings, and Fil-Am celebrations, where they’d serve Filipino fare. Before World Famous Yum Yum Food Truck, they used to call their food business Best Asian Gourmet.
The idea to start a mobile food business came last year during the pandemic, after Ben quit his job managing a furniture store. He was thinking of doing something else when his 21-year-old son Brevin suggested they start a food truck. Having managed food businesses for years, Ben was aware of its earning potentials—but he also knew the kind of hard work it would entail to maintain its success. “So I told my son, ‘We can run a food truck if you’re going to help me.’ My son said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’” Now all his four children, including his mom, help out in the family business.
Promoting Filipino food
Ben says Filipino food remains underrated in Utah, but it’s slowly gaining ground. On the day of our interview, he and his sons were preparing to leave for a fiesta event where they will sell Filipino breakfast meals (tapsilog, longsilog, tocilog). “There will already be a Filipino booth that’s going to be there, so instead of selling the sisig, pancit, lumpia, we’ll sell Filipino breakfast,” he tells us.
The World Famous Yum Yum Food Truck is actually known for its sisig, lechon kawali, and lumpiang shanghai. “These are pretty much what people are coming in for,” Ben shares. He uses regular laman for the sisig as not a lot are fans pigs’ ears or pigs’ face. “But there’s still a lot of fat,” he says. For added crunch, they add lots of toasted garlic.
After the vandalism incident, more people seemed to have gotten curious about the food truck that the Pierces had gotten invitations to park in different locations. The family used to be out serving their offerings until midnight, but these days they stay out for about four to five hours since the food runs out pretty fast. “We definitely got a lot more business since,” Ben says.
There’s so far only one World Famous Yum Yum Food Truck in all of the United States, but Ben says he’s considering to buy a new truck next year. There are, however, also offers for him to put up a restaurant. So that’s one thing their fans could watch out for.
Meanwhile, Ben, the Philippines-born entrepreneur, is happy to note that many locals, old and young, are now trying out their offerings for the first time. It’s often the sisig that patrons rave about. “They go like, ‘Oh my gosh! What is this sig-sig stuff?’”
The Utah Jazz players were also able to try their menu around mid-June. What did Jordan have to say about the food? Ben says NBA’s 6th Man of the Year ordered four meals. “One meal consists of rice, pancit, a dish of their choice [adobo, sisig, or caldereta], two barbecue sticks, and three [sticks of] lumpia. So I guess he likes it,” Ben says, smiling. Picture-taking with the players weren’t allowed due to Covid protocols, he tells us, but there was a lot of fist-bumping.
Photos for the World Famous Yum Yum Food Truck's Facebook and Instagram accounts