I was sitting in a mall food court today, a convenient pause in Shannon and my trip back from New York City, and was suddenly burdened with a crushing question: why is there no national Chinese food chain?

I mean, we’ve got about a million burger chains (McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, etc.), and tons of sandwich shops (Subway, Blimpie, Schlotzsky’s, Quiznos), Italian food places (Sbarro, Olive Garden), pizza places (Dominos, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, Little Caesars, not to mention the restaurant-like Bertucci’s, California Pizza Kitchen), and Mexican food restaurants (Taco Bell, Chi Chi’s). What’s missing in all this is a national Chinese food presence.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of local restaurants, and I know that there’s pretty much no cuisine that can’t be completely ruined by a homogeneous national chain. All of that being said, though, I’m just curious: why has Chinese food been so resistant to the big blender of corporate America?


P.F. Chang’s is a bit more pricey, but they’re all over the country. I’ve also never seen a nationwide Thai or ramen chain, both styles of cuisine that should adapt well to our nation’s cheap, fast food lifestyle.

• Posted by: Andy Baio on Feb 16, 2004, 11:16 PM

Andy beat me to the PF Chang’s note. There’s one right near the convention center in Austin. They are widely introducing their “fast-casual concept” restuarant, Pei Wei, around the southwest.

• Posted by: Leia on Feb 16, 2004, 11:19 PM

Panda Express has 600 locations in 37 states… small potatoes compared to some of the other franchises you mentioned, but nothing to sneeze at!

• Posted by: brian w on Feb 16, 2004, 11:22 PM

Panda Express isn’t as large as the other fast food places you’ve mentioned, but it has pretty good coverage with 500 locations in 38 states.

• Posted by: Jason on Feb 16, 2004, 11:22 PM

They’re not actually all one chain, but pretty much any Chinese place with “Panda” in the name is crap fast food, so it’s kind of a defacto chain, right?

• Posted by: Anil on Feb 17, 2004, 12:04 AM

I’ve always assumed it’s because chain stores have to pay their workers, while family-run Chinese places don’t.

• Posted by: Scott on Feb 17, 2004, 12:55 PM

Manchu Wok is another, mostly mall-based, chain. I wasn’t aware that it was still legal to run a mall food court in this country without either a Manchu Wok or a Panda Express.

• Posted by: Brennan on Feb 17, 2004, 11:43 PM

On a similar note, Yoshinoya has 83 locations in the US. I love Yoshinoya, I used to eat there every weekday, there was a location 1 block from where I worked.

• Posted by: Charles on Feb 18, 2004, 2:04 AM

Brinker (Chili’s, Macaroni Grill, Corner Bakery, Maggiano’s, etc) has a chain named “Big Bowl”. I haven’t seen one yet, but I’ve been on the lookout for one.

Brinker’s HQ is here in Dallas, BTW.

• Posted by: ha3rvey on Feb 22, 2004, 11:23 PM

I read an article about the lack of Chinese restaurant chains about a year ago. I think it was in the Wall Street Journal. The jist of it was that using a wok is a highly skilled occupation, and also dangerous. It’s not easy to hire a wok chef. Fast food chains are usually based on a fixed system of food preparation with minimal skills required.

• Posted by: Richard on Mar 1, 2004, 2:07 AM

heihei,that`s because I haven`t spare my company chain to your country.My mother can cook perfect
Chinese traditional food,once I`ve earned sufficient money,I will found my Chinese food chain,and enter the American market.
See that,20years hence:)

er,I`m also a programmer mastered java programming,i`m in Wuhan of Middle China,welcome you to my wenbsite,and communicate with me^^

• Posted by: Dante on Mar 4, 2004, 10:36 AM

The reason why there are few Chinese chain restaurants in the US is because China has few standardized dishes and cooking is more difficult. Americans also don’t really care too much for exotic food. Popular Chinese dishes like fish heads, duck lungs, animal genitals, pig blood soup, snake, cats, squirrel, pigs feet, brains, intestines, eel, ears, pigeons, and dog meat are revolting to most American tastes. Ironically, what Americans consider to be real Chinese food doesn’t exist in China. Fortune cookies, sweet and sour pork, and egg rolls are all American inventions.

• Posted by: Jesse on Aug 27, 2004, 7:27 PM
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