Angel City connects local culture with fresh clusters with spots that represent Los Angeles communities
The ACFC Jersey Patch Program is a collection of 11 unique sleeve patches that can be used to customize the away jersey for 2023. The Los Angeles map covers most of the jersey with a small, stylized “VOLEMOS” patch adorning the nape of the neck, designed by Rachel Gomez, founder of streetwear Viva La Bonita. Each patch represents a different side of Los Angeles, and each one was designed by a member of the Los Angeles community.
So you have Odilia Romero and Janet Martinez, founders of Comunidades Indigenas en Liderazgo (CIELO), which works to highlight indigenous immigrant communities and resources. There’s Evelynn Escobar from Hike Clerb, a versatile women’s outdoor collection that brings a little more BIWOC to getting into nature. And there’s Mike Buck and Doy Nguyen, two Asian immigrant kids who made their way to Los Angeles from Virginia and put down roots in K-town with their smash burger joint, Love Hour.
Pak and Nguyen’s Love Hour began as a parking lot pop-up in 2019. By that summer, they were whipping up burgers at Coachella. Both entrepreneurs immigrated with their families to Virginia; Pak was born in Seoul while Nguyen came from Saigon. Separately, they moved to Los Angeles about 11 or 12 years ago. While meeting at a friend’s house party, they discover that they actually went to the same college, Virginia Commonwealth University – although Buck left to pursue a career in the music industry in Los Angeles while Nguyen earned a dual degree in film and philosophy. Now, they are running Love Hour in addition to the huge popularity Koreatown Run Club. This is on top of all the other projects they’re working on, like Buck cycling mealswhich distributes hot meals to the community on Sundays.
It’s a great success story by any means, but the ways in which Pak and Nguyen actively leaped into society shine especially in the context of being an immigrant—whether you’re an adult longing for home or a child growing up in countries seeking to be connected to your roots, food is comfort, nurturing, connection, and expression. But Love Hour comes with this American cultural twist—crushing burgers instead of Korean barbecue, homemade chicken nuggets instead of gỏi cuốn. It’s the same zigzag thinking that started The Running Club, a way to remix the flavors people usually expect to find.
“K-town, (you think) late night, karaoke bars, no running around, right?” Gather with Pak around an outdoor table on the Love Club’s patio, Nguyen said. “You don’t go here to impress, go to the Equinox or something. So we wanted to run the club, we did runs. And now people know, if you’re in the running arena in Los Angeles, there’s a huge club run out there. I don’t expect that. And I think that The same goes for food.
“I was just at a Brazilian place, it’s cool, and it’s in K-Town. I don’t think a lot of people would know that. And so just doing burgers and kind of highlighting the innate diversity of Koreatown while also diversifying the food, I think was important to us.”
Neither Pak nor Nguyen had attended a local football match before they were approached by Angel City. But when they accepted the invitation to come to the game, they were blown away by the ACFC game-day atmosphere, an atmosphere that coach OL Reign teased about. Laura Harvey once called “Party in the best way possible.”
“Not only were my eyes glued to the field, but also to the people in the stands,” Buck said. “I was looking forward to seeing what everyone in each department was doing. And man, I really can’t explain how it feels except it’s just electric.”
Nguyen felt it, too.
“I go to a football match,” he said, trying to put his finger on the feeling of connection, “you are there with everyone, you watch with your team.” Watching football even at home, especially when the World Cup is taking place – your neighbors are pulling on someone, you are cheering on someone, there Live broadcast delay – like, it feels different. I feel like the community in the street food aspect of it is what works well for us, and I think it fits football well.”
Of course, they were addicted.
“You come across some things in your life that you may not have a connection with, but you know you want to be a part of,” Nguyen said.
Their Angel City patch is “Flavors of LA,” a compilation of some of the most popular street food LA has to offer.
“I think the Los Angeles food scene is, at its core, street food,” Buck said.
There are burgers, some takeaway pasta, and of course the venerable taco—something you can still get, in often expensive LA, that will fill you up for the rest of the day for less than $10. Both Pak and Nguyen said that if they had to choose just one Los Angeles street food to eat for the rest of their lives, tacos would take over their hearts.
When Nguyen was first working in Los Angeles, he hosted a Battle-of-the-bands concert in his backyard. He needed food, and there was a taco stand down the street.
“I said, hey, how much is 200 tacos,” he recounted. Tacos were still $1 at the time, so it was $200. Nguyen shared his address and came back, thinking he was ready.
“I expected a taco cart to be there when it was a full truck,” Nguyen said. “There was an inch of clearance on either side of the little driveway, which was pretty amazing because there’s a taco truck in my backyard.”
Buck described how when they first arrived in town, they were in awe of the number of trucks and kiosks everywhere: “This was when taco trucks and food trucks were really booming.” “To see a truck at his house, I was like, ‘Oh my God, you made it dude, you did it.'”
The simple red stool in the corner of the patch represents the community spirit of the street food.
“Every food truck or food kiosk you go to here in L.A., you’re going to have these plastic chairs and plastic tables, and it’s something that isn’t exposed,” Buck said. “But you grab one of those benches and you sit next to someone you don’t know, and you potentially spark a conversation. But it’s all about the food and the community.”
It’s not like fine dining, where it might be you and someone else. You and ten thousand other people experience the same thing together, but also through the lens of everything that individually led you to that moment. It’s deeply personal and simultaneously engaging, like watching the World Cup while you can hear your neighbors lose it at the same game on the other side of the wall or sitting around a big six-poster table talking about street food, football and identity in Los Angeles. An unexpected turn perhaps, but these two are all about channeling the unexpected, like crushing burgers and running the club in K-Town.
Mike described his more than a decade-long foray into Los Angeles like most hopefuls who come to town looking for something: “Let’s try it and see what it’s all about.” Isn’t that the motto of every person who has taken a chance on something different, every immigrant who has saved up their last dollar to move an ocean far away? Isn’t it that every women’s soccer player risks a career with modest money and no guarantees?
For Pak and Nguyen, the Angel City patch is another tie that instills them in the community they love. Buck in particular wanted people to see their work and begin building community relationships of their own, in whatever way they dreamed up. He nodded in immediate understanding when I asked him if he also wanted children in K-Town to dream in a way that worked for them, as opposed to perhaps traditional parents whose American dreams lean more toward the Ivy Leagues, high-paying jobs and marriage to doctors.
“You can engage with the community in many different ways,” he said. “It’s just asking your neighbors, or your parents, or whatever the case may be… There’s always a way to help each other.”
Our interview concluded, though, as Buck proceeded to bring out tray after tray of food: burgers, fries, chicken nuggets, onion rings, drinks, piles and piles of sauces. Angel City also had a crew that day show them the jersey with their patch and do a photo op. But even with a hungry group of eight or nine, it wasn’t enough to finish everything on the table. But it’s more than just something to eat, it’s a hospitality, thank you, and community experience while sitting in a chair outside on a bright K-Town winter’s day. Buck sprinted to the table with a sly but sincere smile.
“Does anyone think they can eat a second burger?” Asked.
(Top image: Angel City FC)