CHICAGO -- Consumers increasingly are looking for adventure on the menu. And operators are obliging, offering global flavors from Asian to Indian and beyond. While Americanized versions of ethnic favorites allow a lot of concepts to get international flavors on the menu, today’s diners are often looking for authenticity. Thirty-two percent say they’d be willing to pay extra for dishes steeped in tradition, according to Technomic’s Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report.
Convenience-store foodservice operators have the added challenge, however, of earning culinary credibility while appealing to a wide range of consumers. For a guidebook on how to toe the line between novel and accessible, c-stores can look to these U.S. concepts that are allowing diners to choose just how adventurous they’d like to be.
2 units, 1 food truck
There’s opportunity for operators in the realm of Native American cuisine, judging by consumer interest in it. About 51% of consumers say they haven’t tried indigenous American food but are intrigued by it, according to Technomic’s Ethnic Food & Beverage Consumer Trend Report. And nearly a quarter (24%) of consumers surveyed said they’ve tried Native American cuisine and they like it. Tocabe, which operates two limited-service brick-and-mortar units in Denver as well as a food truck, is owned and operated by members of the Osage Nation. Using customization as an entry point for unfamiliar consumers, the menu features Indian tacos, salads, stuffed fry bread and nachos available with a choice of proteins, grains and toppings such as Osage hominy, roasted green chiles and sweet corn with radish. But the authenticity goes beyond the menu: The restaurant works to source ingredients, such as wild rice and maple syrup, from Native American producers.
2. The Boiling Bowl
Customizable Southeast Asian cuisine, in the form of DIY pho and build-your-own salad rolls, is the focus of full service The Boiling Bowl. The 100-seat Vietnamese spot, which opened at the end of September, comes from Andrew Vu, who runs two other pho-focused restaurants in the area. The restaurant makes Southeast Asian cuisine approachable and experiential with hands-on offerings. Salad rolls are served as “self-roll” platters, stocked with southeast Asian vegetables and herbs, as well as a variety of proteins, vermicelli noodles and rice paper wrappers. The traditional pho also comes with customizable options, including protein choices such as fatty brisket and tendon, as well as meatballs and eye of round steak that are, perhaps, more well-known to U.S. diners. The concept is about more than just introducing diners to Vietnamese cuisine, though. “Our team is dedicated to bringing you an authentic taste of our culture,” its website says.
The Kati Roll Company
Fast-casual Indian cuisine—particularly grab-and-go-style street food—is drawing consumers who are seeking authentic offerings that are also customizable and unexpected. About 34% of consumers, for example, say they’ve tried Indian food and that they consider it “unique and exciting,” according to Technomic consumer data. The growing Kati Roll Company concept features a variety of spiced proteins wrapped inside Indian paratha bread. The restaurant opened in 2002 with a 300-square-foot unit and has continued to expand since. Its sixth unit—which features a mural of a Bollywood star—opened in late August. As it has grown, the chain has continued to add spice-packed new menu items, including the Kosha Mangsho Roll filled with braised mutton, ground Bengali spices, bird-eye chiles and red onions. Consumers are also expressing increasing interest in ethnic beverages, with 43% of younger consumers saying they order such drinks at least weekly, according to Technomic. The Kati Roll Company serves several lassis, made with yogurt and date-palm sugar and flavorings such as orange blossom, honeydew and a savory version with cumin, mint, black salt and ginger.