It really is named ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen. It really will feature the food of Southeast Asia. And the first outlet will be located in Washington, D.C.
That’s what officials at Chipotle Mexican Grill confirmed Tuesday regarding the new Asian concept the company is scheduled to open this summer.
Details about the project have been closely guarded, but rumors have been trickling out since the company first announced plans last November to apply its much-imitated fast-casual model to a new type of cuisine.
“I have always believed that the Chipotle model would work well with a variety of different cuisines,” said Steve Ells, founder, chair and co-chief executive of Denver-based Chipotle, in a statement Tuesday. “Chipotle’s success is not necessarily about burritos and tacos, but rather about serving great, sustainably raised food that is delicious, affordable and convenient.”
The ShopHouse concept is inspired by traditional shophouses found throughout Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, the company said. Shophouses typically are two- or three-story buildings where families live upstairs and run restaurants or fresh markets on the ground level.
Chipotle’s ShopHouse menu will feature the “bold and complex flavors” of Southeast Asia made with fresh, sustainably raised ingredients such as grilled and braised meats, fresh vegetables, herbs, spicy sauces and an array of garnishes.
“Anyone who has traveled throughout Southeast Asia can tell you that food there is served very fast — it’s also full of flavor, nutritious and affordable,” Ells said. “This cuisine gives us a great opportunity to prove the idea that the Chipotle model can work with other cuisines.”
Like Chipotle, customers will move along the service line to customize their meal. Previously, Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold said the pricing would be similar to Chipotle.
Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of foodservice strategies at consulting firm WD Partners, said designing the concept with a broader Asian menu will open up real estate opportunities in locations or shopping malls where there might be lease restrictions because of an existing Chinese or Japanese concept.
A Southeast Asian concept will be seen as something different, he said. “It’s like the difference between calling something Greek or Mediterranean. [The latter] is broader,” Lombardi said. “There would be less of a veto vote for consumers.”
Southeast Asian cuisine also comes with a certain halo, said Lombardi.
“There are perceptions that it’s better for me, fresh, or has better flavor profiles,” he said. “It’s clearly growing.”
Other Asian fast-casual concepts also aim for a broader audience. The 168-unit Pei Wei Asian Diner, owned by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Inc., for example, has a menu that allows diners to “eat in five languages:” Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese.
Pick Up Stix, the 74-unit chain acquired in December by the owner of the Leeann Chin and Mandarin Express quick-service chains, has a primarily Chinese menu with elements of other Asian styles, such as pad Thai.
The stir-fry brands Stir Crazy and Flat Top Grill merged last year under Flat Out Crazy Restaurant Group. The menu for those brands touches on Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese flavors.
Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected] .