My Money's on Ramen
More than other genres, experiencing the many variations of Asian food can be a hobby. Driving around larger metros for the best spring and egg rolls, pho, pad Thai and delicious ramen can keep an enterprising couple on the go for months. As recent articles claim, Asian food is now the world’s fastest growing category. With QSR players taking notice, namely Chipotle’s fledgling ShopHouse chain, it’s no stretch to predict that noodles are set to become a larger player in the American quick-service game.
According to The Washington Post, global sales at Asian fast food restaurants have increased 500 percent since 1999. Compared with chicken, pizza, burgers, Latin food and fish, the growth curve isn’t even close—Asian choices are rising fast. Here in America, that same article cited 135 percent growth in Asian fast food restaurants.
Now up to 10 locations since opening in 2011, ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen—owned by almighty Chipotle Mexican Grill—has slowly spread to the hippest cities—Hollywood, Santa Monica and Los Angeles, four locations in D.C. and, of course, sizzling hot Bethesda, Maryland.
Just like its famous parent, ShopHouse has also brushed off franchising. While Pei Wei and Noodles & Company are bit franchise players in the segment, their offerings don’t match those of the hottest urban noodle concepts like New York’s momofuku or, here in Minneapolis, Zen Box Izakaya. I’m talking fish- or meat-based broth, bold miso flavoring, a drooling soft-boiled egg and a hearty chunk of pork.
As the burger-pizza-chicken-sandwich wars rage on, it’s easy to sit on the sidelines and see a bubble that’s ready to pop. With dining trends leaning toward bolder flavors, spicy sauces and ethnic influences, ramen and other eastern cuisine seems like a natural fit for Asia’s growing influence in American kitchens.
Call it the Anthony Bourdain effect as globally-focused cooking shows continue multiplying, but I’m hooked—and definitely not alone. Hey franchisors! Get on this before Chipotle eats your lunch.