Anson Tsui and Steven Hsiao would like to change the world one Philly nacho cheese steak fry at a time.
The co-owners of Munchy Munchy Hippos are also willing to use dynamite if need be. Which could be a trio of taquitos, one with pulled pork, one with brisket, and a third with mashed potatoes, all wrapped together nimbly and tied with bacon to form a simulacrum of explosive force.
The twentysomething Cal grads started delivering food from their fraternity house at the end of their senior year in 2009, and now have ambitions that begin at getting their customers a hotter hash brown in faster time and end somewhere around "a vision of the future that meshes together society and community, where sharing is commonplace and a driving force in the economy." Or, put more simply: "It is really about making somebody else's day when they are having a shitty day themselves."
At 1:00 a.m. on a recent Saturday, a Munchy driver was headed to North Berkeley with an order of bacon mashed potato cheeseburgers; a foursome of bacon, egg, and cheese croissant dunkers; strawberry lemonade; deep-fried cheesecake bites with chocolate dunking sauce; and candy. The whole transaction was executed online. The customer included special instructions ("a little less barbeque sauce, please. And more candy"), paid online ($50 with tip), and received a confirmation email. There is something kind of giddy about the whole experience.
Not to mention the food combinations, which are pretty psychedelic: bacon mashed potato dunkers; a Polish dog wrapped in bacon and covered in pulled pork. The names range from clever to crass. The Land, Sea and Sky burger has beef, salmon, and chicken. The Little Bitch meal is, for whatever reason, a cheeseburger and tater tots.
Munchy Munchy Hippos will sell you random amounts of food as well. You can order from the "I'm Broke" menu and get an order of two pickles, or a scoop of buttered corn, or an Otter Pop. Once they delivered a soda. There is no minimum order. On a recent night they delivered a bowl of pho to a Cal fraternity guy, then half an hour later, a grilled ham and cheese, horchata, a Twix Ice Cream bar, and a carton of cigarettes to some dude in south Berkeley.
"It starts getting busy at 2 a.m.," said Hsiao, "and then it doesn't stop." One night the kitchen had four guys working the deep fryer and three drivers who rolled in and out, dodging the basketball hoop and free weights that were scattered in the office space, for more deliveries.
Tsui and Hsiao got their start offering pho and now deliver everything from pharmaceuticals to reams of printing paper to condoms. Truly something for everyone — at least, for those who are up at 3:30 a.m. (They deliver from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m., seven days a week.)
The challenge was figuring out what the market demands in the wee hours. "We tried salads," said Hsiao, "and I think we sold one the whole week." Instead, Hsiao and Tsui decided to make food fun — even if that means dishes with rambunctious nutritious value.
Another challenge: taking orders from people who are awake late at night. "We tried with phone orders for a while," Tsui explained, "but it got kind of confusing." Indeed, Tsui and Hsiao are cognizant of the fact that not all of their customers are fully in their faculties at 2 a.m. "We'd get people trying to explain what they wanted and couldn't understand what they were saying, or they were asking for things that weren't on any menu. Or they just kind of drifted off." So they take orders exclusively online. That way, orders go straight to the kitchen and are pre-paid, meaning the only thing the homebody needs to do after making their needs known is to open the door. Which turns out to be more difficult than you'd think. One of the delivery guys, Luke, explained that between ordering and delivery time, some customers fall asleep, or forget.
As for Munchy Munchy Hippos, its employees are surprisingly together late at night. One Friday, home and awake past midnight, we decided to put the service to a test. We ordered the brisket with French fries — a staple of the Munchy trade. We also chose a plate of bacon, crispy chicken, and guacamole dunkers; and a dessert of the fried cheesecake bites. We paid online with a credit card, then played the waiting game, which on this particular night didn't even last long enough to allow us to scroll through the rest of the menu shouting out regrets: "Chili cheese tater tots!" "A ribwich!" "Tomato potato taquitos!"
In less than half an hour, our repast arrived. The fries, slathered in brisket, chili sauce, and cheese, remained remarkably crisp and tasty, even after having been ignored for other items we ordered. So did the fries at the bottom of the pile. The brisket also rocked. Were we just stoned? (We checked with a neutral source — answer, no. But we were told to wipe the meat sauce off our chin.) The menu puts a lot of emphasis on the brisket and fries, and the consensus, as judged by online critics, is plenty positive. There are prose poems to the fries, excessive exclamation points extolling the brisket. It is a love fest, except for occasional complaints about the prices, which can be attributed to the fact that tuition costs enough now to make the purchase of even an Oreo milkshake a perilous investment.
As for Tsui and Hsiao, they're thinking of expanding. "Maybe Mexican. Definitely pizza," said Tsui. And then? We ask, with the greed of the late-nighter, too hungry to go to bed, but too lazy to check our own larder. "I don't know yet," said Tsui with a smile. "We haven't ruled anything out."