I can honestly say that Ekiben creates some of the best bites I’ve had in Baltimore. The deliciously soft and fluffy dough is perfectly juxtaposed by crispy chicken, tofu, and catfish. You can literally taste the passion in every bite. 

Ekiben’s story is a uniquely entrepreneurial one which presents three simple steps to food startup success: 1) Buy a Hot Dog Cart 2) Find a Market, Literally 3) Bring Great Food Memories to the Masses.

Ekiben’s Entrepreneurial Beginnings

Steve Chu, Nick Yesupriya, and Ephrem Abebe all attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The unlikely trio became great friends during their time at school but post-graduation ended up going their separate ways.

Steve went to work in the food industry, but feeling that his creativity was hampered, he eventually left his full-time job. It was from here that the trio regrouped, hungry to execute their vision: bringing fast, casual cuisine to Baltimore in a millennially attractive style, at a reasonable and affordable price.

Step 1: Acquire Hot Dog Stand

Ekiben is the Japanese railroad bento box sold at the stations across the country. Boxes like this, the Tacklebox, are perfect for on the go and have been a trademark dish of the resturaunt.

In Japanese, ‘Ekiben’ are Japanese railroad bento boxes sold at train stations. Boxes like this, the Tacklebox, are perfect for on the go and have been a trademark dish of the restaurant.

With that vision in mind, what is the first logical step to take? Buy a hot dog cart, of course!

Perhaps this is not the most general advice for aspiring foodpreneurs, but when you’re a team of fresh graduates with little cash and an unproven track record, options can be a bit limited.

Without the cash for a food truck, the team dove head first into the challenge and started Ekiben, retrofitting the cart and selling the same slow-cooked meats and buns you’ll find at the restaurant today. According to Steve, “Business for the first month was terrible – we had two customers: Nick’s mother and my own.”

However, with every day the recipes improved, execution became cleaner, and customers started to roll in.

Step 2: Find a Market, Literally

These dishes became the kind of meals you couldn’t pass up while walking through the market.

To continue growing, the trio applied to handfuls of farmers markets – the hope was that a subset of these would provide the stepping stone they needed to build their foundation.

They were rejected by every market they applied to until they were finally accepted by the Fells Point Farmers Market.

This market became Ekiben’s test kitchen, headquarters, and eventually, the forge that shaped their steel.

Step 3: Bring Great Food Memories to the Masses

In just under two years after retrofitting that hot dog cart, Ekiben had the product, the customers, and the experience to open their storefront.

Today, Ekiben serves some of the best casual food I’ve ever had in Baltimore. I’m convinced they’ve got something that every customer will love with both vegan and vegetarian options, plus dishes that will delight all fried chicken connoisseurs, tofu lovers, and seafood specialists alike.

Whether you are a foodie looking for a fantastic insta-post, or you are spending the day downtown and looking for a quick bite, Ekiben is a top choice.

The Team Behind It All

Check Ekiben out on Yelp, Facebook, and Instagram.