What happens when you take two culinary entrepreneurs and let them have free rein to create a food that represents L.A.? In the case of Tsz Chan and Joey Ngoy, Bolo was born. Bolo is the creation of good friends and food enthusiasts, inspired by the years the duo spent living and eating in Hong Kong. They wanted to take a traditional dish so dear to many peoples’ hearts, and put their creative and culinary spin on it that would accurately reflect their identity and culture as Asian Americans living in Los Angeles.
“We wanted to take Hong Kong’s most famous bread and bring it to L.A. with our twist on it,” Chan explained. “As Asian Americans, we didn’t want to do anything too traditional. It was important we took something we loved and put our own spin on it!”
A graphic designer by trade, Chan has won a number of cooking competitions and worked at one of the top patisseries in France. She has designed for big companies like Whole Foods, as well as popular restaurant and bar Here’s Looking at You, and staged at a Michelin-starred restaurant, amongst other impressive clientele. These experiences helped her and partner Joey Ngoy create the perfect snack that embodies what L.A. means to them.
Ngoy’s resume is equally as impressive. He boasts two successful rotisserie chicken restaurants in Hong Kong, in addition to running a marketing agency that handles social media for mega-clients like 85C Bakery Cafe. He is the founder of the extremely successful Top Food News global network of Instagram food accounts, in addition to running a business that is a worldwide distributor and manufacturer of video game accessories.
“As Asian-Americans, we didn’t want to do anything too traditional. It was important we took something we loved and put our own spin on it!”
“We’re both Asian, but we grew up in L.A., so there’s this whole looking at our own culture from an outsider’s point of view,” said Ngoy. “Through getting Bolo off the ground, we gained a new perspective and appreciation of our parents’ food and culture.”
The two friends knew that it was important to create something that would represent the food and their love of Hong Kong with an East-meets-West twist. The whole process of Bolo coming together was an arduous one. It took a whole year to perfect their unique bolo bun and another year to get the fried chicken recipe just right. Chan and Ngoy did all this while juggling their regular full-time jobs. To this day, Bolo remains a passion project that the entrepreneurs balance with their other jobs.
"We developed all the recipes ourselves and have been tasting it for years until we got it right."
“We worked with a bakery in the San Gabriel Valley to exclusively create our special bolo bun recipe. It doesn’t taste like any bolo bun you’ve ever had. We had the imprint of the pineapple marking made especially for us in order to create that crackle top/pineapple look,” said Chan. “In turn, the buns look more natural, unlike the traditional buns, which use lard to get that crumble texture. We didn’t want to do that.”
“We developed all the recipes ourselves and have been testing it for years until we got it right,” said Ngoy.
“Traditional bolo buns are very soft, which is great, but with fried chicken it just falls apart. We take that, but fortify it with more butter and eggs so it’s structurally wise and more like a brioche, and heartier, whether we stuff it with fried chicken or ice cream,” added Ngoy.
And boy, did they get it right! Indeed, the bolo buns are unlike any bolo bun I’ve had in the past. They don’t break and crumble all over the place or make a mess. It holds together due to its brioche-like bread and is not too sweet. Many items that try to blend East-meets-West don’t mesh quite right. Bolo holds its own and belongs in an elevated foodie home like Smorgasburg.
“One thing that sets us apart is our attention to detail and ingredients. We are committed to using quality ingredients. We use Jidori chicken. They are good to their chicken,” added Chan. “We in turn brine it for more than 24 hours, so that’s how we get the juiciness with each bite.”
Bolo’s signature bolo bun is the Fried Chicken Sando, which is comprised of their juicy fried Jidori chicken breast that is smothered with spicy garlic aioli, topped with a Cantonese slaw and sandwiched between a freshly toasted butter bolo bun. Bolo’s fried chicken is extremely juicy and has a bit of an Asian flavor profile to it. The chicken is deep fried and battered with Bolo’s own secret coating that’s not buttermilk (which is what the other popular chicken places use in town). They test each piece of chicken to make sure it is cooked to temperature, which in turn guarantees that each piece is flaky, juicy and crispy. The meat is topped with a mixture of garlic aioli and their own spice mix, which adds an extra layer of flavor. The zesty Cantonese-inspired slaw is made fresh every morning.
In addition to sandwiching fried chicken between bolo buns, Bolo also sandwiches ice cream between their signature hot, freshly toasted and buttered buns. Their ube ice cream sandwich (ube is a type of purple yam) topped with sweet milk drizzle is a popular snack to order. Bolo also offers an espresso ice cream drizzled with chocolate, topped with crushed coffee beans, as well as a pineapple ice cream sandwich featuring vanilla bean ice cream and homemade pineapple jam topped with milk drizzle and sprinkled with egg wafer cookie confetti. There are also limited-edition favorites that constantly change, like the unique Chamango Ice Cream Sando comprising sweet mango ice cream topped with a spicy chamoy drizzle and chile limón spices, sandwiched between the butter toasted bolo bun.
You can find Bolo at Smorgasburg LA, the food festival open every Sunday in Downtown Los Angeles. Not every vendor gets accepted into the coveted foodie paradise, and Bolo is consistently one of the busiest vendors every Sunday. Bolo’s takeover isn’t limited to just Smorgasburg either. Chan and Ngoy have inked deals to open more stores. They are set to open a food court in 2018 called Potluck in Chinatown’s Blossom Plaza. In addition to becoming tenants at the soon-to-open food hall, the entrepreneurs also curated the 6,000-square-foot space, which is scheduled to officially open to the public later this year. Bolo has also just joined award-winning chefs and iconic restaurants like Canter's Deli, Barney’s Gourmet Hamburgers, and Mama Musubi in Pasadena at the culinary on-demand startup Kitchen United. The 12,000-square-foot food facility in Pasadena will help food businesses expand their delivery, takeout, and catering operations by allowing diners to order from any of their available dining concepts for one delivery fee.
“People are demanding to have bolo outside of Sunday. We do catering already, but being at Kitchen United will allow us to deliver to our customers by aggregating all of Kitchen United’s online orders,” said Chan.
And yes, the duo is still doing all that while keeping their other jobs!
You can find Bolo every Sunday from 10am-4pm.
Smorgasburg LA address: 787 S Alameda St, Los Angeles, CA 90021. It’s free to get in.
To order Bolo for delivery, check out Kitchen United’s roster here.