Chung Choe, leader of research and development and a co-founder of Charley’s Grilled Subs, has tapped her Korean background for some of her latest creations for the chain, including a Spicy Asian BBQ sandwich. In an interview with Nation's Restaurant News, she discusses what she's working on now, including a grilled Asian BBQ chicken sandwich and house-made pickles for the chain's made-to-order condiment prep bar. Columbus, Ohio-based Charley's Grilled Subs has more than 400 units worldwide, including locations in Dubai, Kuwait and Germany.
How were sales of your latest limited-time offer, the Spicy Asian BBQ sandwich?
It’s probably the biggest hit that I came up with. But I was reluctant [to mix a] cheese steak with Asian. It will be rolled out again this year. I am Korean, by birth. [And like the Korean dish,] bulgogi it’s sweet and savory, but I added the dimension of spiciness. With a little pepper flakes and ginger. Pear extract added a very nice sweetness.
What cut of beef meat do you use and how do you prepare it?
It’s USDA Choice sirloin. It’s not marinated. We cook it to order — exhibition style cooking, put it on the grill flat top with onions, peppers and mushrooms. We add a soy-sauce-based thick sauce, designed to coat. And we top it off with provolone cheese. No mayo lettuce or tomato. It’s served on a 7-and-a-half-inch sub roll.
How much does it sell for?
From $3.99 to $4.50. It depends on the location.
What are the items you have in test right now?
A couple of different things, I got more confident and bold with Spicy Asian BBQ sandwich. So I’m working on a sauce for chicken — spicy Asian barbecue sauce. Its base is red pepper paste with mirin, ginger, peach juice or mango. It’s in the very preliminary stage. The color is a very vibrant red. Imagine Buffalo sauce without the vinegar and a more complex spiciness.
What else is in the works?
A lot of people like bacon. You put bacon on it and it sells itself. I’m working with a bacon theme.
And I’m working on some dry rubs. I’m digging deep into a Southeast Asian sauce and some sweet Hawaiian glaze with pineapple for our ham sandwich. It’s a fairly basic club sandwich. But I’m trying to be careful with salt for obvious reasons. If you have sweetness and spiciness, you don’t really have to add too much salt.
And I’m looking to have a fresh in-house-made pickle, with cucumbers and cabbage.
Would the pickles have Asian flavors?
Not necessarily. It would be with a little vinegar, salt [and] sugar that sits for just a couple hours, and you would be amazed how much flavor it has. It could be part of morning prep. A lot of people like crunchy. It gives a huge lift to anything. It adds freshness without raw taste to it.
How do you survey customers?
I don’t really have a scientific method or survey, to be honest. I talk to our franchisee advisers a lot, and they come in contact with our customers in different regions. So I talk to them a lot and find out what are the trends and what people like. And I keep my eyes open to what people are eating.
So what are the newest trends with your guests?
Hot, spicy. It seems like suddenly American’s palates are open for spicy food and there’s almost no limit.
Contact Pamela Parseghian at [email protected].