How to Grow Your Ethnic Brand September 12, 2012

September 12, 2012
INDUSTRY NEWS | September 7,
How to Grow
Your Ethnic
Steven Chan, founder of Tin Drum
AsiaCafe, will present at this year's Dine America conference in Atlanta on
September 12-14.
With more and more consumers diving into exotic flavors, the idea of
opening an ethnic quick serve is becoming more feasible than ever for
operators with diverse culinary backgrounds.
And with ethnic minorities poised to become the majority in just a few
short decades, limited-service ethnic concepts are only poised to
increase in the future, says Qaiser Kazmi, founder and CEO of Merzi, a
Washington, D.C.–based fast-casual Indian concept “with a British
accent.” At Merzi, Kazmi blends the English influence of his youth
with traditional Indian flavors.
Steven Chan, founder and CEO of Tin Drum AsiaCafé, says ethnic
quick serves are well positioned for growth, thanks in part to the fact
that the flavor profile across restaurants and across the country is
continually expanding.
This means it’s now easier to persuade consumers to experiment with
dishes they may not have tried before.
Chan also says even non-ethnic brands are using foreign flavors and
dishes, such as sriracha and Korean barbecue, which also eases
customers into trying ethnic cuisines, as well.
Kazmi says that because American diners are naturally inquisitive,
coaxing them into trying ethnic cuisines may be easier than many tend
to think.
“[America’s] a country of learning. People want to know what’s going
on, what’s happening, and they want to add to the knowledge that they
already have,” he says, adding that this allows ethnic brands to
educate customers about international cuisines.
But that can also be one of the biggest challenges when it comes to
operating an ethnic quick serve, Chan says.
“In an Asian concept, which I believe is still quite new, you want to
take baby steps,” he says. “You don’t want to just put it all in front of
the consumer at one time. You have to take time to just step by step
have them learn about the concept.”
This can be accomplished through both an easy-to-comprehend
menuboard, as well as a staff that’s accessible and helpful. The process
can also be simplified if ethnic brands make sure not to go overboard
on the concept’s culture.
“The truth is, we’re playing in the U.S. market, and sometimes you go
too deep into the culture, into the ethnic part of the concept,” Chan
“You have to have just the right touch of ethnic in it,” he says, “but not
overly done.”
This goes not only for the environment of the concept, but its food, as
well. Chan says ethnic brand owners must balance between authentic
dishes and American tastes.
Kazmi says a good rule of thumb is the simpler a dish, the better.
“In QSR, you’ve got to be careful not to make it too complicated, where
you can give people something that we call ‘decision fatigue,’” he says,
adding that it’s wise to steer clear of items that are completely
unfamiliar to American diners.
“If you give someone something outlandishly strange that you may eat
in your own country, but people don’t eat over here,” this can spell
disaster, Kazmi says.
He adds that it’s also important to test more authentic offerings on a
test market before adding it to your chain-wide menu, or else you can
risk wasting a lot of money on items that Americans won’t purchase.
This topic will be covered in depth at this year’s Dine America, the
executive conference hosted byQSR September 12–14 in Atlanta. Visit for the schedule, and register athttp://