The latest food fight in Southern California is between wok-wielding foes vying to dominate the market for fast, fresh and affordable Asian fare.
Pei Wei Asian Diner, Pick Up Stix and others are expanding despite the hurdles: an abundance of mom-and-pop competitors, a shortage of prime restaurant sites and the complexities behind churning out shrimp with lobster sauce, vegetarian stir-fry and three-flavored dumplings.
“It’s one of the most popular cuisines in the world and yet it’s under-penetrated from a chain basis because it’s very difficult to prepare on the scale of restaurants,” said Steve Finn, chairman of Bloomington, Minn.-based Leeann Chin Inc., which launched Chin’s Asia Fresh two years ago in the Midwest.
The Asian segment has attracted key players in the restaurant industry over the years hoping to duplicate the success of Panda Express, which peddles its fast and cheap cuisine through 638 outlets, or that of the higher-end P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, with 107 casual dining restaurants.