As a student, alumnus Edward Sumner was often ridiculed for the bento box style lunches his mom packed him every day. But now, dozens of people line up to receive the Japanese cuisine he serves up every day.
Last June, Sumner opened Don Japanese Food Truck, a business dedicated to creating affordable and authentic Japanese meals specifically for UT students.
“Having gone to UT, I know the food around here and in the dining halls is overpriced,” Sumner said. “I had other chefs tell me, ‘You’re never going to make money off a $5 bowl,’ but it’s what I believed in and I had to stick through it.”
Before opening Don Japanese Food Truck, Sumner majored in nutrition and worked for kitchens while going to school for several years before discovering his true passion was cooking. He began interning at other kitchens without pay and making plans to open his own business.
“I’ve always had very fond memories of cooking and food because my mom was such a good cook,” Sumner said. “I remember telling her, ‘I think I can do it,’ because I’d seen how I could make people happy with the food I was cooking. Her reaction was almost like an, ‘It’s about time,’ kind of thing.”
After sketching ideas for his dream kitchen, Sumner spent about a year creating a menu and studying cookbooks to find Japanese recipes he could make on his own. He also drew inspiration from his mother’s cooking, creating dishes like the Kara-age, a Japanese-style fried chicken that was originally one of her recipes.
For loyal customers, like women’s and gender studies sophomore Tien Dinh, the food provides familiarity that can’t be found at other restaurants around campus.
“The food feels very home-style and unique compared to the generic things you’d find at other restaurants,” Dinh said. “Edward is always very kind and has a smile on his face that just adds to it all.”
Though he’d already been working in the food industry, Sumner never attended culinary school. Instead, he found himself most influenced by his experiences managing the Halal Bros food truck and working under a local chef who acted as a father figure to him.
Although the idea was originally his own, Sumner said the support and help he’s received from his coworkers, Omi Yozen and Bernard Goal, has kept the truck running.
Sumner’s longtime friend Goal said he never doubted Sumner’s ability to achieve success with Don Japanese Food Truck.
“He’s a very driven person who always makes sure to put a lot of thought and effort into all aspects of the business,” Goal said. “When he asked me to join him, I could really see that it was a strong business moving in a good direction.”
But the business wasn’t always smooth sailing. During the truck’s first two weeks, Sumner said he struggled with negative reviews and high rent for his truck’s original location at 28th and Guadalupe streets. Regardless, Sumner said seeing people appreciate his food made it worth it.
“I remember I was just smoking a cigarette outside the truck and I suddenly saw a huge crowd of people coming and thought, ‘There’s no way that’s for me,’” Sumner said. “We sold out of food that night. Omi and I just couldn’t believe it, and we were so so happy.”
Despite the acclaim Don Japanese Food Truck is receiving, Sumner makes sure to stay grounded and remember others who have not been as fortunate as he has.
“I attribute a lot of my own success to luck,” Sumner said. “I always have to tell myself to stay humble because there’s always going to be millions of people out there who work harder and don’t get to see the same results.”