Why no national chains of Indian or Chinese restaurants?

The British love their fish and chips, and you don’t see so many national chains of those either. My relatives tend to buy their Chinese food from the chippie. Having a local chippie is as important as having a local pub. Perhaps Brits see a chain as more pedestrian – who cares where you eat a burger, but maybe where you drink a pint makes a statement about your identity. I’m pretty sure my grandfather never ate any fast food or “foreign foods” like rice and pasta.

My British friends like to eat greasy Indian food after drinking a few beers. They might not go out of their way to a chain if something similar and family-owned is closer at hand.

Or maybe it has only been tried on a smaller scale. I’d imagine there are some successful regional chains, althogh not national ones.

Holy sweet and sour pork on the head. I did not know there was a real Shitty Wok. I thought it was a South Park invention.

As to why there seems to be only one or two national chinese chains I blame the god damn Mongorians.

relevant South Park clip.


Grew up in Chicago, live in Washington D.C., have plenty of experience on the coasts and in flyover country.

Panda Express is the largest national “fast food Chinese” place here. It’s not everywhere, but it’s got the greatest market penetration (Some free-standing, some in malls). It’s not bad. Best thing about it is it’s standardized-- unlike the crap shoot of regular Chinese take-out, you always know what you’re going to get, which is largely the point of fast food.

Coming in second (I think) is, Manchu Wok, which is only in shopping malls (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchu_Wok).

So, I’d say the market share is growing, but I doubt it’ll ever be terribly huge in the United States for one big reason: **you can’t eat Chinese food while driving a car. **

Remember-- Chinese food is very popular here in the U.S., but fast food in America caters to the car culture. Selling anything that requires a utensil, you’re automatically limiting your market to people who eat there (like in shopping malls) or people who buy it and take it home (which is enough of a hassle for most people to obviate whatever benefit “fast food” brings you-- at that point, most people just order in from their local takeout place, I figure).

Indian food is getting more popular here in the U.S. It’ll probably be a while before anyone figures out how to make it into fast food, however. When they do, it’ll probably have the same challenges fast-food Chinese will have, unless they market Naan-based wraps (which I’m all for, BTW-- just call it an Indian gordita!).

Personally, if I had to venture a guess, I’d say the “exotic foreign food pecking order” in the U.S. right now is:

  1. Japanese. Sushi is really close to mainstream now in much of America, you can buy it in most upscale grocery stores, and find independent sushi stands in many malls. Hell, there’s even a popular sushi restaurant in Wisconsin Dells I routinely visit, and for anyone who knows the Dells, that’s about as flyover as one can get
  2. Thai (almost as common as Chinese in many cities)
  3. Indian a distant third.

A lot depends upon geography. Go to Texas, you’ll find more Mexican food, obviously. Here in Washington, however, we have a lot of South American food that you can’t find elsewhere because we have more South American immigrants here. I swear that if I ever figure out how to franchise the recipe for Peruvian rotisserie chicken in Chicago, I’ll be a gazillionaire. (Just as if I can ever import a combination Chicago hot dog/Italian beef/White Castle here in D.C.).

What about Harry Ramsden’s?

Harry Ramsdens ? Hmmphh.

I’ve an uncle who used to drive out to Guiseley way way back,Harry started out in a wooden shed with a frying pan and a brazier.

The chippie became famous around Yorkshire not just for the food, but also it was one of the very few places in the '60’s where you could play on one armed bandits and other amusements, due to the strict gaming laws at the time, the only other place you could go for such an experience was the seaside, or there was the occasional very seedy looking venture in parts of a couple of town centres.

Ramsdens was differant because it was, in the countryside, and family respectable.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but the bean counters got into Ramsdens and suggested ‘improvements’ to make more profit, one of the worst was the use of frozen portioned fish, lumps of battered and shaped fish - made up from all the other bits.

Unsurprisingly trade dropped off, it took the idiots at Ramsdens a few years to understand that no chippie can survive by serving such inferior fish, and eventually they had to return to proper fish, instead of the industrially recovered crap.

Old Harry Ramsden or his sons would have never allowed such a thing to happen, having seen the depression and the war years rationing.

Once Ramsdens had returned to their proper trade, business recovered but then the suits got in again and it was sold off on the stock market.

So now it isn’t really Harry Ramsden the family business any more, its a chain that has decided to get more ‘value’ from its investment.
The whole point of the chip shop was that it was open when other business were not - remember the good old days of limited trade opening hours ? and it was cheap - go to one of those Ramsden franchises nowadays, and you’ll find that they are not a cheap meal, and personally I don’t think they are good value.

You are basicly paying seaside prices for fish & chips, without having the seaside.

Furious_Marmot writes:

> Outside of the large (mostly coastal) urban areas, there is very little non-ethnic
> spicy food. Cajun, creole, Southwestern, and eastern NC style pork BBQ (not all
> that spicy) are all I can think of. None of these are terribly popular outside their
> home regions, evidenced by the lack of national or regional chains. The only
> exception that comes to mind is Popeye’s fried chicken, which is somewhat
> spicy.

This is the “well, except for A, B, C, D, E, etc., that’s what the U.S. is like” argument. The problem is that A, B, C, D, E, etc. add up to a majority of the U.S. Why do people think that most of the U.S. is Midwestern small towns where nobody has ever been to the big city? It’s not. Most Americans live in the big cities or the suburbs of them. There are large groups of recent immigrants scattered all around the U.S. running restaurants specializing in their spicy native cuisine. There are large proportions of the U.S. where the local cuisine is something spicy. It’s just not the case that most Americans eat nothing but McDonalds. If I recall the numbers right in fact, there are considerably more Chinese restaurants in the U.S. than there are McDonalds. The U.S. is packed with restaurants offering spicy food, noticeably more so than the U.K., for instance. For once, turn off your TV and actually look around your community. The fact that there are lots of advertisements for bland fast food chains on TV doesn’t mean that those are the majority of what Americans eat. Spicy restaurants may not be organized into chains, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t lots of them in the U.S.

It depends on what you mean by spicy, and on the clientele of the restaurant. I live in East Hollywood, which is otherwise known as Thai Town and Little Armenia. (You’ll see those names on your Thomas Guide map.) That is, East Hollywood has both the largest Thai population outside of Thailand and the largest Armenian population outside of Armenia. So if I go to the Thai restaurant down the street, it will indeed offer spicy food (and everybody’s speaking Thai). But a Thai restaurant on the Westside will tame its food, cutting down the spiciness. Even if you ask for regular, spicy curry, they’ll serve you something short of typical Thai. And Westsiders still go to these places thinking they’re eating real Thai food.

As for the Chinese places, those numbers are counting those typical places where you go to the counter, and you tell the server which dish or dishes under a plate glass you want on your fried rice or noodles. All but maybe one or two of them are bland and flavorless. There’s one two blocks from my house.

There’s no chain of french restaurants either. Or Japanese. It might be easier to list the cusines which have successfully formed chains:

Regional American

What else?

Souvlaki/Kebabs (Middle Eastern/Australian/UK)
Pies (Australian)
Sushi (Japanese)

I’d say that Japanese is represented by Yo!Sushi (at least here in the UK).

One of the reason that I specifically mentioned Indian and Chinese is that they both have a few very well known dishes that can be packaged simply. French cuisine is too varied both in choice and ingredients.

I think Shalmanese and elmwood were talking about US chains. There are Japanese and French chains (well, French-ish – Café Rouge, I’m thinking of) in other countries. Although I do find it a bit hard to believe that there aren’t any Japanese chains in the US.

As for the lack of Indian fast food chains here, maybe it’s just that it’s too rich and spicy for daytime snack food? We have a kitchen here at work where people bring all sorts of food in to heat up for their lunch. But nobody ever brings curry in, despite it being such a popular type of dish. Maybe it’s just that it would stink the place out. But I can’t say the idea of having Chicken Jalfrezi at lunchtime works for me. The closest we get to Indian fast food is those wraps and various types of sandwiches that you find in supermarkets, and they’re only mildly spicy.

Well, one of our clients is Panda Express /Hibachi San, and they have roughly 780 locations …

Hmmm…yes - you’re right: I hadn’t thought of that. Ah well - there goes my bright idea :frowning:

I doubt it, since simple and not altogether spicy snack food is quite common in Indian cuisine. It doesn’t have to be curry.

Which reminds me of another Indian food chain: Chaat Café. Again, there are many places with the name, but this one has franchises in California and Texas.
As for Japanese, it’s not fast food, but Benihana has locations throughout the Western Hemisphere, with most scattered around the US.

Todai has locations throughout both coasts, Chicago, and Hong Kong. It’s only a total of about 16 locations, but it’s a bona fide chain.

I present to you a chain of Indian-Chinese fusion cuisine: Inchin’s Bamboo Garden. We went once and I thought the food was pretty gross, actually. It was about in the price range of a PF Chang’s. http://www.bamboo-gardens.com/
7 locations in 5 metro areas: Atlanta, Chicago, Raleigh, Seattle, Columbus.

I respectfully disagree. My statements about what kind of food typical Americans like is not based on the mistaken assumption that most of my countrymen live in Mayberry nor is it basen upon TV advertisements. It’s based on observations made while living in a number of urban/suburban areas in much of the US outside of the west coast and far northern midwest. From the perspective of this oft-relocated city boy, the average American, be he from Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Milwaukee, or Pittsburg, does not generally like new foods. It is possible that this is a universal human trait, I don’t know. Either way, it is regretable, but it is very much the case.

I stand by my assertion that American regional cuisine is typically not spicy. The exceptions I gave are very restricted. Creole and Cajun are limited to east Texas, most of Lousiana, and the southern parts of Mississippi and Alabama. Southwestern food is ill-defined, but if we take it to mean foods where there is a choice between red and green chile, then we are looking at NM, AZ, west TX, and some of CO, CA, and UT. Most of these areas are sparsely populated. Eastern NC barbecue is extremely geographically limited and is the only necessarily spicy food I can think of in the Southeast. It is not a cuisine at any rate, more of a specific food, and was added mostly out of friendly regional chauvanism. These exceptions do not add up to a majority of the US by population, area, or number of regional cuisine types.

Foods made by/for recent immigrants are not regional American cuisine. Although such restaurants are certainly present in nearly all cities of any size, in the vast majority of the US outside of the (mostly coastal) super-metropolises they are not frequented by “average” native-born Americans. After 1-2 generations of cultural assimilation, the foods made by the descendents of immigrants or sold in hypenated-American restaurants, which at that point should be considered regional American food, are blander and generally similar to the majority of American foods. Consider the American- verisons of Mexican, Chinese, Greek, and Italian cuisine. While they are all fine foods and undoubtably American in every sense of the word, they are notably dissimilar to their parent cuisines, especially in terms of spiciness. The ubiquitous Chinese restaurants you cite as a counterexample to American’s dependence on McDonald’s (which I never asserted) are a good example of a regional American food that is less spicy than it’s antecedent. Further, as others have pointed out above, many of those restaurants are part of defacto chains.

Furious_Marmot’s Theory of Indian Food Around These Parts:

  1. There are no Indian restaurant chains in America.
  2. A nationwide chain must appeal to a large number of people, across a wide area.
  3. Many Americans, by population or areal extent, do not like new or spicy/hot foods. This is evidenced by:
    A. The relative rarity, by population, areal extent, or number, of spicy regional American cuisines
    B. The convergence of immigrant cuisines towards blandness and low variety, as they become embedded in the American food landscape.
  4. Indian food is percieved (wrongly) as unusual and/or all spicy all the time by many Americans, across a large portion of the country. My post is my cite (kidding, kidding).
  5. QED

What about Chesapeake Bay seafood? Have you ever tasted Old Bay seasoning? The Chesapeake Bay area is Baltimore, Washington, and Philadephia and their suburbs. What about the Cajun and Creole cuisine of New Orleans? What about Buffalo wings? You’re simply ignoring anything that doesn’t fit your stereotype of American food.

You write:

> Foods made by/for recent immigrants are not regional American cuisine.
> Although such restaurants are certainly present in nearly all cities of any size, in
> the vast majority of the US outside of the (mostly coastal) super-metropolises
> they are not frequented by “average” native-born Americans.

The super-megapolises (Boswash - Boston to Washington, Sansan - San Francisco to San Diego, and Chipitts - Chicago to Pittsburgh) include a huge proportion of the American population. Many smaller cities now have substantial neighborhoods of recent immigrants. These immigrants have opened up restaurants, and they serve many members of the non-immigrant population.

Look, we’re not going to resolve this here. We would have to do a comprehensive survey of American food tastes. In any case, I have a much simpler theory of why there are no significant Indian or Chinese chains (other than Panda Express). Chain restaurants are not about serving good food. They are about making huge amounts of money for their investors and modest amounts of money for their franchisers while paying their staff the minimum wage possible. Chains become big because they advertise like crazy while spending as little as possible on the preparation of food. When you don’t invest anything on properly trained staff, you can’t prepare good food except for a very small set of items.

Chesapeake Bay seafood is fairly spicy, it was a mistake to leave it out. Yes, I’ve eaten quite a bit of Old Bay, some this past weekend. However, the addition of Chesapeake Bay seafood still does not make this list of exceptions represent the majority of American regional foods by population or geographic extent. This is not a No True Scotsman argument.

Cajun and Creole were specifically addressed in both of my posts.

Buffalo wings are, like Eastern NC barebecue, a particular dish, not a regional cuisine unto themselves, and are the only necessarily spicy food I can think of from western NY.

I agree with you completely on the existance of immigarnt communities in cities of all sizes (see my previous post). However, I disagree as to the number of non-immigrants who eat at such establishments. In megacities, yes, absolutely, lots of average Joe native-born Americans eat there. In most other cities, tiny to large, no, the average Joe does not eat there. A few non-immigrants, sure, but not many.

We are in agreeement as to the role of advertising and cost control in the profitability of a chain restaurant, and the low quality of the food served. My point is that people like what they like and if they think that a food type has undesirable characteristics, no amount of marketing will make them a customer. If marketing efforts could be directed towards convincing more Americans that their perceptions about Indian food are wrong, then a chain would be viable.

I agree that this will not be resolved here and I will cease posting as I think we clearly have very different experiences with average Americans and different ideas about what they like, and we are to a certain extent talking past each other.

Good day to you, sir.

Around here Chinese takeaways don’t really open before late afternoon, presumably for this very reason. However, some of the Indian restaurants do lunch time specials. They tend to be fairly empty though at lunch time.