Austin power couple Paul Qui and Deana Saukam are veterans of the SXSW rush. Their wildly popular East Side King trucks rove the festival serving up their signature fusiony take on street food, and for the second year in the row they've curated the SouthBites food trailer park.
This year, their new flagship restaurant, qui, will be open for the festival for the first time. Eater spoke with the duo about covering Austin's trailer scene, the kitchen's SXSW "battle mentality," and their mutual obsession with juice.
This is your second year curating the SouthBites trailer court. Could you guys talk a bit about the selection process?
Paul: We go for a little bit of a balance.
Deana: We don't want four taco trucks.
Paul: Deana has been the one doing a lot of research.
Deana: In the summer it was a little brutal because of the heat, but it was fun. After awhile I was eating a lot the heaviest things - you try the thing that everyone does best - Reubens every day. I went to a vegan trailer. Schmaltz's. But the next day I went to Melvin's and had another Reuben.
Paul: There's definitely a lot of people that didn't want to move or weren't set up to do a satellite, but the people we picked were trucks we were fans of.
Deana: I'm really really excited that Micklethwait will be there.
Paul: She picked out I Love Churros and they didn't answer their phone.
Deana: But we still love them.
Will East Side King do anything special?
Paul: Last year we were toying around with other stuff, but for now we're going to keep doing classics. SXSW is all about handling volume and figuring out logistics. The hard part of SouthBites last year was that everyone had a lot of programs they wanted to check out, so we would get a rush during lunch before everyone went back to presentations.
Deana: SouthBites will run pretty well this year because we have thirteen trailers in there.
What is your personal SXSW survival strategy?
Paul: I barely eat during SXSW. My main thing to do is to juice.
Deana: The alcohol helps you get through Southby, and the juicing helps you get through hangover. I get up and have a tea, and then a juice. And an afternoon juice
You guys juice instead of eating?
Paul: I can't even do a heavy lunch at the restaurant if I know it's going to be a busy service. I banned dessert from family meal in the lead-up to Southby.
Deana: Though we still order it when we're home.
Paul: Southby is battle mentality, it's marathon time. Some East Side King spots go until 2, 3, 4 in the morning. The Liberty opens earlier during SXSW and some of the satellites are open late, so guys are working around the clock.
Will you be doing anything different with qui's bar or patio?
Paul: We have our pulutan menu that hasn't taken off yet because of the weather. It's a way to experience food here for under 20 bucks. You can totally get full with a beer and a cocktail.
Deana: It's great to have while waiting for a table, too.
Paul: Sisig is on the menu now. For me, that's a meal. It's crispy pig's head, on garlic and ginger rice.
Deana: The perfect meal would be sisig and halo halo on the patio.
I love how you guys are telling people how to eat cheaply at your restaurant.
Deana: That's what I would do.
Paul: People think we're super super expensive and inaccessible, but we have different levels. Just because price tag looks like it's big, like hundred and fifty for a steak, hides the fact that the steak is three pounds.
How do you prepare for the festival as a restaurant group?
Paul: East Side King usually closes for a day or two after SXSW to give folks a day off. We hire temporary staff.
Deana: We book a lot of catering during SXSW. The ability to have satellite locations is huge.
Paul: The exposure is great. My crew likes it -- they like doing special events and not the same thing all the time. For me SXSW, especially for East Side King, it's a good time to represent the city and show our best stuff. Southby is always crazy, man. I can't say that I love it. But I love getting through it.
· All SXSW 2014 Coverage [EATX]
· All Paul Qui Coverage [EATX]
· All Deana Saukam Coverage [EATX]