Korean American fusion food truck makes its mark on campus

Shama Gupta, Life and Arts Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the April 15, 2022 flipbook.

Jae Jeon leaned over his cashier’s window, watching as students passed between UT and West Campus. Every now and then, he struck up conversations with a frequent customer-turned-friend while he awaited the next order. 

Jeon opened Wabara, an egg sandwich food truck on Whitis Avenue, in early February after leaving his job as a sushi chef. Despite the difficulties of navigating the food truck scene as a first time business owner, Jeon said he enjoys his freedom and newfound connection with the UT community. 

Jeon came to Austin a year and a half ago after being recruited by an Austin restaurant. However, the ownership of the restaurant changed, and Jeon said he didn’t want to be a roll man despite being offered more money. 

“Being a sushi chef and a roll man (are very) different,” Jeon said. “You don’t need much skill to be a roll man, and it was kind of embarrassing for me. (Despite) the skills I have, they wanted me to do those ‘helper’ jobs.” 

Now, Jeon said he enjoys having complete ownership of his work and the quality of the food he produces, while also connecting to his customers. 

“I feel more engaged with my customers and like I can be myself,” Jeon said. “In a restaurant, you can’t do that. When you’re working for somebody, it’s not allowed. Dealing with college kids makes me feel young again.”

After contemplating what food he would sell, Jeon said he landed on sandwiches with Asian fusion elements.

“I wanted to (take) everything in me and fuse it (together),” Jeon said. “I have Korean history and a Japanese background, and I’ve lived in the States for 20 years. I thought of this egg and bacon sandwich because it’s very Americanized, but I can infuse the sauce, flavor relations and spices because people like fusion food.”

Jeon said he’s still developing and curating new ideas for the menu and currently working on making a Korean burger. 

After walking past the truck and realizing it was newly opened, psychology freshman Phoebe Cates said she was pleasantly surprised.

“It was super busy,” Cates said. “They had sold out almost everything, but I got the classic. It was good. I would definitely go back.”

Business freshman Jason Yang said that Wabara’s proximity to campus and Jeon’s light-hearted personality adds to its appeal. 

“It’s super close and convenient, and I come back a lot because (Jeon) is really cool and cracks jokes a lot,” Yang said. “I have to pass by here to go to (Guadalupe Street anyway).”

Yang’s recommendation led aerospace engineering freshman Nick Christner to try out Wabara. Christner said he went four times during Wabara’s opening week and now averages about two times a week, eagerly purchasing the brisket signature sandwich.

“(The best part is when) my customers keep coming back to me,” Jeon said. “They appreciate my food. People who really know how to eat (and) know what they’re eating actually appreciate (me). I really take care of my customers and food quality.”