Over the years, I’ve come up with my fair share of money making ventures. There was the affordable but trendy pho joint in Yaletown. Then back in 2002, there was the web site that allowed you to upload video clips for free so you could share them with the rest of the Internet. I told that idea to these two dudes from Illinois. They looked at me as if I were crazy. I wonder what they’re up to now.
Anyways, as evidenced by the fact I had to move back in with my parents, these ventures have not gone so well. This time around, though, I’m falling back on what I know best… what I like to eat. My new idea is for a new chain of affordable yet “high-concept” restaurants. The key to my plan? These restaurants will be all in China.
Why China? The economy is booming in major metropolitan centres in China. There is a large middle class emerging that is beginning to be flush with disposable cash. The Chinese are looking to spend their wealth on luxuries. This includes goods and services, especially dining out. I want in on that new money.
So what’s my high-concept? Are you familiar with a restaurant chain in the US called P.F. Chang’s? It’s a successful chain of restaurants that blends modern decor, consistent presentation, and a quality image. Their entire focus is Chinese cuisine but altered ever so slightly to be more attractive to the Western palate. Think Earl’s locally but with Chinese food and waitresses with more clothing.
It’s successful because it’s totally disarming to American tastes that might not be as bold to go to a traditional Chinese restaurant. Or, it’s attractive because one can get Chinese cuisine but in a more Western setting that’s still presentable.
I would take the same winning formula, turn it 180 degrees around, and place it in China. My series of “MJ McWhitey’s” eateries would introduce Western cuisine to the new middle class in China. Surrounded by modern but tasteful decor, Chinese diners would experience Western food with a slight Chinese bent to offset what might have been a harsher introduction to new tastes. I’m still trying to envision the menu but it’s a tough balance between having authentic dishes yet not totally removing the diners out of their comfort zone.
One thought I’ve had is replacing certain ingredients of classic dishes with familiar Chinese staples. A mushroom burger and fries? Replace the traditional capped mushrooms with Chinese ones. I would strive towards simple replacements like that. If you come to MJ McWhitey’s, you’ll get something unique, pleasant, yet still comfortable.
I think this is viable business idea and it could work in China. Plus, if it’s your birthday, MJ McWhitey’s wait staff will come around your table and sing happy birthday to you in Mandarin.