brand experience brief: pei wei asian market

(Welcome to my new Brand Experience Brief — these videos provide insights and analysis on new and interesting restaurant and retail concepts.)

Many fast-casual restaurant start-ups are trying to copy Chipotle, so it’s refreshing to experience one that does things it’s own way.  Pei Wei Asian Market, the newest concept from P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, offers a cool environment, innovative menu items, and affordable prices.  Check out this brief on the brand experience that’s not like Chipotle:

Brand Experience Brief: Pei Wei Asian Market (by Denise Lee Yohn) from Denise Lee Yohn on Vimeo.


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Hi I’m Denise Yohn.  And today I get to tell you about a fast casual concept that is not trying to be like Chipotle.  While countless other concepts mimic Chipotle, this Asian restaurant does things its own way.

Iím talking about Pei Wei Asian Market, a new concept from P.F. Changís china Bistro.  You may be familiar with Pei Wei Asian Diner, a 173-unit concept that is the more casual, quick-serve version of PF Changís full service restaurants.  Well, earlier this year company decided to go even more casual and more convenient and open Pei Wei Asian Market.  I visited the inaugural unit in Phoenix Arizona.

The first thing that struck me about the place was its dark interior ñ with the hot sun blaring outside, the dark restaurant was a nice oasis of coolness both in temperature and attitude.  The darkness also showed off its interactive digital menu board, which in turn showed off its savory menu items, although the interactive feature was lost on me and the other guests who entered while I was there.

The next things that jumped out were the menu and prices.  In addition to Pei Wei Classics which are the same items found at the Diner concept, there were sandwiches including a Vietnamese chicken meatball sandwich which seemed very progressive, and there was a market fare section of smaller plates priced between 1.95 and 4.95.  It included expected items like spring rolls and noodle salads, as well as sweet potato fries served with a smoky sriracha aioli.  So definitely some creative options and the lower prices made them even more attractive.

I chose some of the more standard items to see if the preparation would be comparable to the Diner concept and they were indeed well-prepared and tasty. All of the food is served in to-go boxes which seemed strange at first, but made sense as I saw many folks leave with leftovers in hand.

The restaurant features a big open kitchen and exposed brick, metal, and concrete give an urban feel while design elements like bushels of soy sauce and stacks of ingredients complete the market metaphor.

So in practically every way, the Pei Wei Asian Market seemed different from the Chipotle copycats that seem to be cluttering the restaurant landscape these days.  Now, there was one departure from most fast casuals that wasnít good and that was the service.  Although it was prompt and accurate, the employees seemed bored and somewhat robotic.  Their lack of energy really muted the experience especially compared to the friendly engaged service that distinguishes many fast casual restaurants.

But overall I applaud PF Changs for taking some risks and experimenting with a new approach.  The concept is billed as a way to enhance convenience for customers while providing the company a way to expand into urban areas and non-traditional sites.  It seems it is off to a good start.

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