Brand Experience Brief: Shophouse Kitchen

What happens when the company behind Chipotle Mexican Grill decides to go Asian?  Shophouse Kitchen!  Check out this video audit & analysis of the Shophouse customer experience.

DLYohn Brand Experience Brief: Shophouse Kitchen from Denise Lee Yohn on Vimeo.

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What happens when the company behind Chipotle Mexican Grill decides to go Asian?  Shophouse Kitchen! a new restaurant concept with about a dozen locations in the Washington DC and Los Angeles markets.

The company says Shophouse is “a tribute to the inspiring food culture of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore” and is committed to the same “Food With Integrity” philosophy that Chipotle practices.  So that means sourcing organic, local, and seasonal produce when possible and meats raised without antibiotics and added hormones.

I visited the location in Dupont Circle and found an experience that was almost exactly like a Chipotle.  The menu gives you a choice of bowls with rice, noodles, or salad and a variety of toppings from meat and tofu, veggies like beans or corn, sauce, and garnishes.  Friendly servers prepare your order to your specifications right in front of your eyes.

Cool drinks like Bruce Cost sodas and Asian beers are available, as are rice and mango parfaits, along with a little propaganda about GMOs.  The ShopHouse Bowl with pork and chicken meatballs was delicious with just the right amount of heat and a decent value at around $7.00.

It’s a pretty straightforward restaurant experience so there’s not much more to report but that actually brings me to my two insights.  The first is about the menu variety, or lack thereof.  Just like Chipotle, the concept offers a limited number of choices that can be combined into probably a million combinations, but at the end of the day, the menu seems pretty sparse.  It’s a good thing to not overwhelm people with too many choices, but I wonder if the concept offers enough variety to drive enough visit frequency.

Also the restaurant environment was pretty basic.  The cool wooden furniture and bench seating is unique but the lack of interesting decor combined with the open kitchen gave the place an industrial feel.  I’ve never been to a shophouse in Asia and I believe the company is trying to present a Western interpretation of one, but I would think there could more imaginative design and the use of colors and textures to provide a more exciting experience.

The company reports only modest plans for expansion of Shophouse and I think that’s smart because I don’t this type of food is as popular as burritos yet — but over time I’m sure we will see more units in different markets and hopefully they’ll address the questions I’ve raised here.  Check out my other brand experience briefs at the URL on the screen (http://bit.ly/DLYohnBrandExpBrief).

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