The food truck industry is constantly growing and evolving, requiring flexibility and innovation from owners (and therefore reliable options to do so) to be successful. In this episode of The Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast, we discuss the ups and downs of the industry and how Battle Born Batteries forever changed Pari Thitathan’s food truck business, Thai Burger Company, for the better.
The Challenges and Logistics of Opening a Food Truck
Pari Thitathan is an entrepreneur who moved to the United States hoping to open a successful string of restaurants. But Thitathan faced trying obstacles along the way, and it took him a few attempts to create a thriving food business. Now, he owns and operates Thai Burger Company, a San Diego favorite food truck offering American beef patty burgers blended with authentic Thai ingredients to create the infamous Thai Burger.
On this episode of the Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast, Pari talks about the struggles of the food industry, and how location and global events have had a large impact on the livelihood of restaurants and food trucks. The Thai Burger Company Owner and Chef reminisces with host, Denis Phares as they talk about meeting for the first time years ago in Southern California, at a time Pari never could have imagined the impact that Denis and Battle Born lithium-ion batteries would have on his food truck business.
Outside of the typical RV, marine, or off-grid property application, lithium-ion battery technology is changing the game for the food truck industry. Pari shares his experiences switching to Battle Born Batteries and ditching the loud, off-gassing generator he was forced to use for years while serving his customers Thai-infused burgers, giving him an edge against the competition now that he’s made the upgrade to lithium.
Listen to the full episode on your favorite podcast platform or check out the video interview on the Dragonfly Energy YouTube channel to learn more about integrating lithium batteries into the food truck industry.
And learn more about how Thai Burger Company is not only serving up San Diego’s most authentic Thai flavors (with an American-style twist), but how this SoCal food truck has set some revolutionizing standards in the food truck industry on their website or by following Thai Burger Company on Instagram.
Denis Phares 0:14
Welcome to The Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast. We are here in San Diego, California and we’re on the road. And we wanted to take the opportunity being here to meet up with an old friend of ours, Mr. Pari Thitathan. Did I say that right, Pari?
Pari Thitathan 0:30
Denis Phares 0:31
Can you say it?
Pari Thitathan 0:32
Okay. My first name is actually Paripon.
Denis Phares 0:34
Okay. Let’s stick with Pari, and your last name…
Pari Thitathan 0:36
Cut that in half it turns to Pari, and then my last name is Thitathan.
Denis Phares 0:40
Thitathan. Awesome. Okay. Pari is the owner of the Thai Burger Company in San Diego. You’ve got some food trucks, you have some… It’s okay, and his family is here as well, so that is totally fine. So nice to meet your kids. So, let’s get into it. So, first of all, the Thai Burger Company. You’ve got a couple of food trucks and you’ve got a restaurant.
Pari Thitathan 1:10
Yeah. So, 2012 is when we started. My wife and I, actually, I brought my wife here… We have to honor her too because she’s just as much a part of this as I am. But we started this 2012 as a street vendor, we were doing canopies all at farmer’s markets. So, we ended up getting our first food truck in 2015.
Denis Phares 1:29
Sorry, you were doing canopies?
Pari Thitathan 1:31
Yeah, canopies. Like food trucks, like tents. So, it’s traditional for street vendors to be more canopy.
Denis Phares 1:37
And what were you selling?
Pari Thitathan 1:38
Thai Burgers since day one. We thought it was a cool idea that we were going to turn Thai dishes, traditional Thai dishes that you would normally sit down and eat with the silverware and all that, we thought it was a cool idea to turn it into a handheld kind of on-the-go feel.
Denis Phares 1:56
So, a Thai burger is your invention?
Pari Thitathan 1:58
Denis Phares 1:59
You don’t go to Thailand and there’s a Thai burger.
Pari Thitathan 2:00
Now, I have to say this because I don’t know, for legality reasons or not, but there are some rice burgers and some [Inaudible 2:08] and all that. There’s some over there, but by the time I came to America in like 2002, I wasn’t aware of them. So yeah, but they’ve been around, some of them have been around. Those places like Mos Burger. That’s in Japan, that’s been around for some time. So, I don’t want to really claim that I’m like the absolute original. But in terms of Thai sticky rice as a burger, I am absolutely original on that.
Denis Phares 2:28
So, your Thai burger, instead of a bun, you have sticky rice.
Pari Thitathan 2:31
Denis Phares 2:32
And that’s unique to you?
Pari Thitathan 2:33
Denis Phares 2:34
How did you make that innovation?
Pari Thitathan 2:37
Sticky rice is something that’s been around for hundreds of thousands of years in Southeast Asia area. Sticky rice. It’s glutinous rice that’s like… It sticks together very, very well. And Thai people and Lao people, Cambodia, or the whole area that we eat those with our hand, our bare hand, and like we grab food with it too. And the thing is, it’s not sticky like a regular jasmine rice, or like any type of other rice, it actually sticks in one ball, and we grab food, and all that. So, in Thailand, it’s actually like our comfort food, Isan food. Isan is right next to Lao, and Lao is our sister country. We’re like brother and sister country. So, we felt that taking that rice was the perfect platform for us because it sticks together like a hamburger bun, and it’s delicious with everything. Half my life when I was in Thailand, I grew up in a church. That’s like Isan people, and I ate sticky rice all the time.
Denis Phares 3:40
When did you move to the States?
Pari Thitathan 3:41
Denis Phares 3:44
Okay. And you moved with your family?
Pari Thitathan 3:46
Yes. Oh, no. I came here to live with my mom and my dad was in Thailand.
Denis Phares 3:51
Okay. All right. But your mom had restaurants here as well?
Pari Thitathan 3:56
So, we jumped into the restaurant industry starting 2007, 2008, that time.
Denis Phares 4:02
How did they make that decision to be on…
Pari Thitathan 4:05
Oh gosh, I don’t know what we were thinking man.
Denis Phares 4:08
It was a big risk.
Pari Thitathan 4:09
Big time. Restaurant industry is the worst industry you can get into. The profit margin is razor-thin.
Denis Phares 4:16
And you guys knew that when you started, when you went into it, or you learned it along the way?
Pari Thitathan 4:18
I’m kind of a head-in-first kind of guy, just start swinging. Once I start doing something, I don’t want to sound as stupid as like, I don’t think about things when I do things, but…
Denis Phares 4:30
Well, you’re an entrepreneur, you have to be a little crazy.
Pari Thitathan 4:32
Yeah, you got to be a little rough. You got to be a little like… I go with that 30% execution. Like if I see something that has a 30% plus kind of risk, let’s go.
Denis Phares 4:42
So, it’s you and your family, you went headfirst into restaurants.
Pari Thitathan 4:46
Yeah, my mom. It was my mom and my older brother most of the time. I was a little younger, I was 16, 17 at the time. I was just there and just kind of learning, I was just there to kind of learn. I got to say this now because, whatever mistakes we made in the past regarding restaurants and all that, I got to give it to my mom that she took the fall financially, and all that, because we ended up actually bankrupting like on some of the restaurants. We ended up keeping one which is Papaya Bay. It’s in Riverside till today.
Pari Thitathan 5:16
Riverside up in LA.
Pari Thitathan 5:17
Riverside Banning, so it’s more towards Palm Springs. So, my mom does the Papaya Bay restaurant.
Denis Phares 5:26
That one is one that survived from…?
Pari Thitathan 5:28
That’s the one that survived out of all three of them that we had. Yeah.
Denis Phares 5:30
And I imagine, so 2007, then 2008/09 hit and…
Pari Thitathan 5:34
09 was the one. I think that was the year that everything….
Denis Phares 5:37
Everything crashed. Yeah.
Pari Thitathan 5:39
That was hard. It was hard times. Very, very hard times. My brother opened a restaurant called Chili Arcade at the time. I know this has nothing to do with me, but it’s building up to that.
Denis Phares 5:47
Pari Thitathan 5:49
That was in Escondido, in San Diego. So like I said, we’re all over the place. We were learning. If I can be honest, though, I want to say because I’m a pretty straightforward kind of guy, we kind of didn’t really have an idea what we were doing, and then we were learning. When we learned big time. When things hit you hard, I was like, “Well, definitely not doing that again.” So, there’s an idea. I tried the first prototype of the burger, it’s actually the chicken satay burger. So, we all know what chicken satay is. So, I had this idea of putting it between a burger bun, and I actually use a bread, like a brioche bun at first. And I put like this thing together and make it like a chicken satay burger with peanut sauce with the regular hamburger bun. It sold pretty well, it was pretty good. It was an interesting idea. And then, I thought about this idea of like, “Maybe we can replace that with rice.” There’s another dish called khao niaow moo ping. I know I shouldn’t be pronouncing too hardcore, but khao niaow moo ping is sticky rice and Thai barbecue pork on a stick. That was one of my most favorite things to eat in my childhood when I was in Thailand. So, I wouldn’t eat that every day when I come out of school. They’re like five bahts, man, like 10 baht at the time. You would get like three sticks and a bag of sticky rice. It’s amazing. It’s quite amazing. And I remember how it’s delicious, man. I would finish the whole… It’s funny because they put the sticky rice in the bag, and they put the barbecue pork in the bag too. And I remember the juice would run down and I would take the sticky rice and start dipping it in the… (Laughs) Yeah, I was a fat kid. Yeah.
Pari Thitathan 7:29
I don’t really care about the… Yeah, I was a pretty fat kid.
Denis Phares 7:32
So, I can see your inspiration to do this and start a food truck. So you actually had some background with your family, you’ve learned some hard lessons. When did Thai Burger Company start, the food truck?
Pari Thitathan 7:44
So, the food truck, so Thai burger company started, essentially, it was 2012. We bought our first food truck 2015. It’s a continuation of the same thing, we were selling the same exact product.
Denis Phares 7:56
Sorry, what were you doing the first three years, did you have a restaurant?
Pari Thitathan 7:59
No, just tent, that’s all I was doing. Just canopy, that’s all I was doing. Just running around. All the farmer’s markets around, we will book in advance.
Denis Phares 8:09
That fund funded the food truck.
Pari Thitathan 8:09
That fund funded the food truck. I’m actually really proud to say this, I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging but…
Denis Phares 8:14
Pari Thitathan 8:15
We actually paid off… So, first of all, shout out to Accion, at the time they were called Accion but they’re called Accion now, they’re the ones who loaned us the money to go get that. So, that was the first move I made, it was like I had to use some kind of loan to get that because it’s not easy buying a food truck. Those things cost like hundreds of thousands of dollars. We ended up paying off. We had enough money equivalent to pay it off in about six months in, right after we got that food truck.
Denis Phares 8:45
Pari Thitathan 8:45
And it was a good move. We were extremely lucky because we had government contracts. We’ve been contracted with the naval base since 2014 around that time. So, we knew that we had some strong leads.
Denis Phares 8:57
So, you were delivering food there or just parked?
Pari Thitathan 8:59
Parked our car from truck there. We were serving the Navy. We’ve been part of the military for a very long time. Nowadays, I’m not directly with them anymore, but I subcontract and I’m still in the naval base. Yeah. So, we served the military for a long time. That’s like bread and butter for us.
Denis Phares 9:12
Interesting. I said, “We go…” You’re an old friend, we go way back.
Pari Thitathan 9:17
Yes, we do.
Denis Phares 9:18
So, this is back 2018, that’s when we met. And I know that you ordered batteries from Battleborn Batteries, put them in your food truck, which already was pretty ahead of your time, I think. And I don’t remember how I actually heard of you when you first placed it. I don’t know if you placed the order with me, I was answering phones at the time. But anyway, I knew that you were a customer. I was down in San Diego with my family, went to the San Diego zoo, and I thought, “Hey, I will call Pari.: I had your number. So I called you up, and I said, “I’m here with my family in San Diego,” and you said, “Where are you?” I said, “I’m at the zoo,” and you’re like, “I’m parked outside the zoo.”
Pari Thitathan 9:58
Yeah, Balboa Park. That’s Food Truck Fridays man, that’s like the Olympics of food trucks. You came on a perfect time. And I can’t believe we actually had time to speak for a little bit too because we normally have like 30…
Denis Phares 10:09
It was packed.
Pari Thitathan 10:10
Yeah, it’s packed. All food trucks have like 10 people in line, 30 people.
Denis Phares 10:13
Yeah. And actually, to be clear, I guess, at that time, you didn’t have the batteries in your truck. You had bought the batteries, you hadn’t yet installed them, but you seemed very excited about them. So, after that, you actually installed the batteries in your trucks, and then in more trucks?
Pari Thitathan 10:31
Yeah. So, right after that, I believe you saw the trailer when you saw me at Balboa Park. And then, that’s 2018, so that was the year that I actually ended up buying another food truck. So, I bought another food truck.
Denis Phares 10:43
And you installed on the new one.
Pari Thitathan 10:44
And then, I installed on that one. Yeah. Because the first one I had a generator on it. You’ve probably heard the story multiple times, especially in the food truck industry, when there’s customers right in front, you have this loud generator the whole time. It’s just not good. People always talk about range anxiety. I always laugh when people talk about that because I actually have more anxiety with gasoline because there’s multiple times I actually ran out of gas because I forgot to fill it up, and I had to stop the entire operation, and go get gas, and come back. I know it’s cool that you can actually do that for gasoline, but, versus a battery, if you size your system correctly, it’s like a cell phone. You plug it in, and you have 100%, you go out and you work, come back, you just charge it again.
Denis Phares 11:30
You kind of inherently know how long you have on your cell phone.
Pari Thitathan 11:32
Exactly. Right. If you size it correctly, you do everything correctly, you operate correctly. Honestly, that took away my anxiety altogether. It’s amazing.
Denis Phares 11:42
When you go to a food truck that has no generator, do you actually notice that, like, “Oh, this one is really quiet,” or are you just surrounded by generators?
Pari Thitathan 11:53
I am surrounded by generators most of the time, and…
Denis Phares 11:57
Do customers notice, like, “This…
Pari Thitathan 12:00
Oh, big time. Yeah, customers know, they’re like “What’s your truck running on?”I’m like “Let me show you.” “Hey, I thought you’d never asked.” I always try to brag when I can. It just feels premium, man, like, dude, the Battle Born brand too, for me, It’s like just that reliability. It just feels like nothing’s going to happen to it. Just bulletproof. I keep using the word ‘bulletproof,’ but it is. So, we installed the first six batteries onto our second food truck. And then, from there, maybe about a year or two later, I started… No, three years later, and then I installed on my food trailer. So, all my whole fleet now has all the Battle Born batteries. For me, that’s on my part. And then, we’re thinking about running the third truck, but, right now, I think we’re pushing a little bit because of staffing issues, and all that, plus, we just bought the restaurant back in October.
Denis Phares 12:52
Yeah. Tell me about the restaurant.
Pari Thitathan 12:53
Yeah. So, it was really cool, man. I’m super excited about this. So, in October, we opened our actual storefront location. We’ve tried a location before in 2016, that didn’t go so well. I had to end up closing it down right before COVID. And this is our second shot at it again, getting a shop. And we’re right in front of naval base, you just can’t get any luckier than that. So, we’re located off of 32nd Street and Main Street. So, it’s 3280 Main Street, San Diego, California, that’s where we’re at. So we’re right in front of Navy Exchange gas station, like a high traffic area, people see us. We just got that spot and we’re working in conjunction with the food truck. It’s amazing.
Denis Phares 13:33
You have paid your dues. My goodness, bankruptcies, and failed restaurants, and…
Pari Thitathan 13:38
It’s tough. It’s tough, man.
Denis Phares 13:40
What did COVID do to you?
Pari Thitathan 13:41
Honestly, man, I misread COVID. I misread it 100%. I misread it, man. I’m going to have to give a shout-out to a lot of people right now because my brother, Nat, just opened up a Thai place, and I gave him that shop. We worked out a deal where Nat is going to actually take over my spot. And then, he sells Pad Thai, and I actually ended up backing off. So now, my brother is selling Pad Thai, it’s called The Pad Thai stand and they’re doing phenomenal. They’re doing great. They’re in an old location off of Claremont and Ashford. And then, now, about three years later, two years later, then we bought that, we got the shop. So, this all went down like 2018. So yeah, the shop is like our second chance, and we’re going at it again. We got to work hard. You get punched, you got to get back up. Perseverance, right?
Denis Phares 14:35
I wasn’t sure what you meant by, “I misread COVID.”
Pari Thitathan 14:38
So, before COVID, there was a lot of anxiety. I had no idea what the hell was going to happen like everyone else. We have no idea.
Denis Phares 14:47
Pari Thitathan 14:48
Slightly, because it was right between when COVID was about to happen. We already know the news that’s coming out, so it’s right in that time. And then, our sales…
Denis Phares 16:58
Like early 2020.
Pari Thitathan 14:59
Yeah, early 2020 because it’s COVID-19. That’s the reason why I say it’s pre because 2019 was a time where we were already kind of slowing down at the shop a little bit, and we were thinking about pivoting already. And then, when COVID happened 2020, that was the deciding factor. We were going to have to do something. And to clarify that, COVID actually turned out to be very good for the restaurants a lot. My brother definitely benefited from that a lot, quite a bit, because everyone just completely changed the way they eat, they dine out now. They just do to go, and it’s all to go now. People don’t cook as much and it’s amazing. I have seen some restaurants… Don’t get me wrong, my condolences to everyone who lost their restaurants, and lost their families, of course, to COVID, that’s so worse. But COVID, it took out a lot of restaurants that were doing things in stubborn the old way, they weren’t adapting, they weren’t evolving with the situation. I was one of them, so I could speak that loudly. And then, those who did adapt, they benefited greatly from it. They benefited.
Denis Phares 16:05
In Reno, obviously, it was tough, and we were consciously trying to help the local restaurants. So, we ended up… Well, there were two things, we didn’t want our employees to leave because they could risk potential exposure. So, we ended up bringing food in all day long from all the local restaurants to also help out the local restaurants. And, for us, it’s kind of similar, like, all of a sudden, everybody wanted to go RVing. Go in their van and just get away, and they all wanted battery. So, through COVID, we were having a hard time getting people, growing the team during COVID, while, at the same time, the market just boomed in terms of battery.
Pari Thitathan 16:51
Absolutely, it’s really funny you draw that correlation between us, the food industry and the battery business. That’s insane because it’s exactly the same how they happened with our food, like with food industry. To go became a thing. So, one of the spots we go to is called Pacific Beacon. Pacific Beacons is basically the barracks that we parked. The barrack was okay, before COVID, it was okay. We were making some pretty good money, it was good. They were like a restaurant that sits out right in front of the barracks, and people come down, trickle down and eat. Well, guess what happened in COVID, lockdowns. When the lockdown happened, guess what? They’re all there. All 3000 of them, they’re all there in my restaurant. My food truck all of a sudden became one of the hottest things and so did other food trucks that serve that same spot. So, that’s what I meant by the benefits that I just couldn’t see. If I just think about it, I would see it, but then, I just completely misread it. A lot of stuff.
Denis Phares 17:38
And what’s happening now in the restaurant business, are people coming back to dine at the levels they did before?
Pari Thitathan 17:44
Not quite yet.
Denis Phares 17:45
So, to go is still a big thing.
Pari Thitathan 17:46
Still a thing for… At least, that’s what I’m seeing. I can’t speak for other restaurants, but I am in an industry and I do see other restaurants, and they do fairly well. Those who’ve been around, those who’ve been through the COVID have done very well. Whoever survived COVID is what I’m saying. Those are like crème de la crème, these are like the tough ones, including my brother. They’re all known now and they have this clientele that they built over the past three years. For me, I think the biggest thing we struggle with, of course, it’s like, with the lockdown and all that stuff, and not getting sick, and trying not to die, those were the things we all tried to worry about. Finding staff was probably the hardest thing during that time.
Denis Phares 18:27
Yeah, we had similar issues.
Pari Thitathan 18:30
I had the whole staff pulled out on me, people who have been doing it for like six-seven years. Just completely… And then, unemployment didn’t help, that did not help at all. We did the best we can, we persevered. Again, perseverance is going to be a common theme here as well.
Denis Phares 18:43
You guys growing?
Pari Thitathan 18:45
So far we’re just… We got the shop probably in like… I wouldn’t say it’s like the, best time but with the economic…
Denis Phares 18:53
The economy sucks right now. Yeah, I get it. Well, it’s another one of those tough times where those that survive the tough times like this come out actually stronger than when they went in.
Pari Thitathan 19:04
That’s what I’m banking on. I’m banking on the next three, four years that we’re going to just bunker down. And this time, I’m not going to do the same thing, I’m not going to repeat the same mistake with Ashford. So, this is like a second chance for us, that’s literally what I think. My wife and I, we talked about it. We’re well aware of the risk. We’ve failed before, we’ve failed multiple times, and we’re going to keep failing. We’re going to get really good at failing, that’s what we’re going to do.
Denis Phares 19:26
That means you get good at learning.
Pari Thitathan 19:29
We’re the best failors on earth, that’s what we are. When you fail so much to the point you become a pro at it, nothing hurts.
Denis Phares 19:35
Come on, you’re not a professional failor. You have to go through those times to learn in order to succeed. So you’re a success.
Pari Thitathan 19:46
Denis Phares 19:47
All that stuff you did led to your success.
Pari Thitathan 19:49
And success, right? That’s what we all search for. That’s what we all drive for.
Denis Phares 19:53
And I think that you are an entrepreneurial and innovative, And the fact that you brought in lithium, like, lithium, new technology into the food truck business, and to do it in a very high up high power application. And I do also want to talk about the fact that you went beyond putting batteries in your trucks, you’re making battery systems for other people’s trucks. I remember you told me you’re going to do that. I was like, “That’s pretty bold.”
Pari Thitathan 20:23
Yeah. Like I said, head on first, right? 30% execution. If I see an opportunity somewhere, I’m just going to grab it. That’s the way it works. I’m glad I got in way before, like, way ahead of the game. So, a little background about me is that I went to MiraCosta College in Oceanside about 10 years ago, and I’m a drop-out, obviously. It was like we had to choose between the restaurant, the food truck, at the time, and the school. I remember, I was getting into the physics class, and it just got a little too tough for me and I had to pull. Either I’m going to go full time… So, I was doing engineering, I was trying to go for electrical engineering or engineering physics, that’s what I was trying to go for. And I’m really glad that all that stuff I’ve learned. Especially with mathematics, and all that stuff, and some basic math, I’m able to, at least, recognize volts laws, like, Watt’s law, and… I mean, watts law and Ohm’s, law and all that stuff, I was able to recognize some of the stuff, and like, “Oh, that’s cool. It’s just a relationship of algebra, it’s pretty cool.” And I was able to size systems. I’m glad I’m able to use this to work at this time. What we ended up doing, after we installed our batteries, a funny thought came up, this is like, “These systems are bulletproof, they’re so good. I wonder if I can install them for my other food trucks?” That was the question that happened, just in case you’re wondering I was talking about you guys. I tend to rant so just be careful. I tend to just randomly rant. So, the idea came up last year, actually last year, and my wife and I talked about it. My wife has a big part of the deal with this. She has a big part to do with this. And I thought that, like, you know what? I can finally break apart from just doing rice burgers because we’ve been doing it for a decade now, the rice burgers. And I was like just finding something new I can do. And I’m absolutely passionate about energy. I’ve always been passionate about it. Since I went to school, I’ve always wanted to be an electrical engineer because I want to know what’s out there for me to leave a mark or do something remarkable. This is my opportunity, I saw it with the batteries. And I’ve installed the system with your help, of course, you walked me through a lot of it, which is amazing. And now, it’s working, it’s amazing. I thought that, “Hey, why don’t we just go on this crusade to get everyone off the gasoline and just go on batteries?” We did that, exactly what we did.
Denis Phares 22:39
And the state of California is supporting that. Well, I’m happy to be part of your ability to incorporate food and batteries. Electrification of food trucks is the future, and you are definitely on the forefront of it. I want to thank you for your support and all the nice things you’ve said about us over the years. And I want to thank you for being on the podcast. It’s been a pleasure to see you.
Pari Thitathan 23:10
No reason to thank, man, it’s just honestly a good product. Your product speaks for itself, and he does. It’s all it is. So, it was just meant to be, man. Honestly, I promise you, I’m not fanboying, I promise. I waited, literally, like four years. I remember we talked that day at the Balboa Park, and I refused to give you a review or anything, I refused to say anything at the time. I remember telling myself that. I waited about four years until, I remember, I posted on Instagram about a couple of years ago. I remember. It has been that four years was done 2022, it was done. So, I posted it. And yeah, man, it worked. Nothing wrong. So, nothing I can say. I’m just a practical man. I don’t know. But yeah, I’ll take it. Thank you, for sure.
Denis Phares 23:57
What can I say? Cheers.
Pari Thitathan 23:58
Cheers, man. Thank you so much.
Denis Phares 24:00
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