PEOPLE

JUN 1, 2016

Jason Wang Rules a Xi'an Empire

jason wang rules a xi'an empire   |   By Stephen Liu

Occupation: Restaurateur

Based in: New York

Last Education: International Culinary Center (Formerly French Culinary Institute)

 

It takes hard work to run an empire. And Jason Wang has a large one, at that. He’s the CEO and President of Xi’an Famous Foods, a New York City Chinese fast-food chain that currently has 11 locations - and expanding - in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. Xi’an Famous Foods has quickly become iconic for its fast, hip, and inexpensive Xi’an fare, with its famed lamb burger starting at just $3.50!

One of those locations is Biang!, an upscale version of the Xi’an brand, named after the sound the noodles make when the dough is slapped against the counter. Just this year, Biang! became a no-tipping establishment, instead giving its employees a wage increase and 15% of the revenue share.

In 2017, Xi’an Famous Foods will have a coveted spot in the upcoming Bourdain Market, a mega food hall by Anthony Bourdain, opening on Pier 57 in Manhattan, fashioned after Singapore’s famed hawker centres.

Jason Wang Ceo and President of Xi'an Famous Foods

Occupation: Restaurateur

Based in: New York

Last Education: International Culinary Center (Formerly French Culinary Institute)

 

It takes hard work to run an empire. And Jason Wang has a large one, at that. He’s the CEO and President of Xi’an Famous Foods, a New York City Chinese fast-food chain that currently has 11 locations - and expanding - in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. Xi’an Famous Foods has quickly become iconic for its fast, hip, and inexpensive Xi’an fare, with its famed lamb burger starting at just $3.50!

One of those locations is Biang!, an upscale version of the Xi’an brand, named after the sound the noodles make when the dough is slapped against the counter. Just this year, Biang! became a no-tipping establishment, instead giving its employees a wage increase and 15% of the revenue share.

In 2017, Xi’an Famous Foods will have a coveted spot in the upcoming Bourdain Market, a mega food hall by Anthony Bourdain, opening on Pier 57 in Manhattan, fashioned after Singapore’s famed hawker centres.

Xi’an’s memorable fare has been featured on many foodie shows like Food Network, Travel Channel and Cooking Channel. Champions for its spicy, hand-pulled noodles include celebrity chefs Andrew Zimmern and of course, Anthony Bourdain.

In 2008, Anthony Bourdain arrived at the original location in Golden Shopping Mall to film an episode of “No Reservations.” He instantly fell in love with the food, and the little stall in Flushing became an overnight hit.

At the time, Wang’s father, David ‘Li Piang’ Shi, ran the original location. Wang was still in business school at Washington University in St. Louis, but helped out at the Flushing location every winter break. Xi’an’s popularity continue to boom after Wang’s graduation in 2009. He foresaw the growth for Xi’an, and implementing his business acumen, the chain quickly opened additional locations.

Xi’an Famous Foods’s impressive expansion under Wang’s helm didn’t go unnoticed. Wang has numerous honors and accolades under his belt, including Zagat’s 2013 30 Under 30 in New York, Forbes’s 2014 30 Under 30 in the Food & Wine category, Crain’s 2014 40 Under 40 in NYC and Eater’s Young Guns National Class of 2013.

In New York’s Chinese food scene, Jason Wang rules.

 Privy Interview Jason Wang Xi'an Famous Foods Forbes 30 Under 30 Food and Wine

 

1.

 

You’ve mentioned that Ray Kroc, credited for turning McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) into the world-wide franchise it is today, is one of your role models. Have you implemented his philosophies into Xi’an Famous Foods? At the same time, you’ve said you won’t franchise. How do you see Xi’an Famous Foods expanding?

 

I find role models in many different people, and as such, I take the best parts of their philosophies and work it into my thought process. While I can look to Ray Kroc's involvement with McDonald's in the beginning as admirable (the way he is so detail-oriented and looked to reinvent the hamburger business back then with Fred Turner, like Danny Meyer and Randy Garutti are doing now), I still have to see how their philosophies about other things, such as franchising, fit with our operations. Xi'an Famous Foods will expand, but at a controlled rate. We are here for the long run, not for a quick buck, so every decision will be carefully evaluated, and right now the decision is that we are not looking to franchise, but to expand with company owned stores.

 

2.

 

You run a restaurant empire, and you’re not even 30. How have you put your personal stamp on the hole-in-the-wall eatery that your dad started?

 

For my part in helping the business, it's really about changing the business from the inside, slowly, to achieve more efficient and effective operations. My father started a food stall, but he had no plan as to how to make the food accessible and to cook the food consistently in our stores if we expanded. That is what I worked on and am still working on these days to perfect. The website and menu was my contribution while I was in college, not fully involved with the business, but these days I do everything from HR to real estate selection to store operations to social media to business technology. Pretty much everything.

 

Jason Wang David Li Piang Shi Xi'an Famous Foods 

 

3.

 

What’s it like being friends with American food tycoon Anthony Bourdain, who loves your restaurants? And on that note, can you tell us anything about Bourdain Market?

 

We have always enjoyed Tony's support of our restaurants, ever since the beginning when he first went to our original store. To me, he's just a pretty down to earth guy who has the palate and knowledge about foodstuffs of all sorts, and generally a very nice and real person to be around. We are working closely with his business development team on the Bourdain Market and potentially other projects as well. I cannot say too much about the Market yet, as it is still very hush-hush, and there's things that have to be put into place anyways, so it's too early to tell too much, yet.

 

4.

 

Xi’an Famous Foods just celebrated the 10th anniversary of its first location opening in Golden Mall in Flushing. As you look back over the decade, what do you think is the secret sauce that makes Xi’an Famous Foods so successful? (Obviously you don’t have to tells us the actual secret sauce.) 

 

The secret sauces we use are, in fact, one of the most important things for our success. In the end, the products are what keeps people coming back, not a few news articles or TV features. Everything else we do is in support of that, such as marketing and social media to get the word out there. We also took our time to expand at a pace at which we are comfortable with over the decade, and are always trying to look back and improve ourselves to be stronger for the decade to come.

 Xi'an Famous Foods Burger Noodle Soup Spicy Cumin Lamb Noodles

 

5.

 

Do you personally think you’ve contributed to the popularity of Xi’an cuisine?

 

Xi'an Famous Foods absolutely contributed to the popularity of Xi'an cuisine in America. Having the keyword "Xi'an" in a restaurant name or a menu item seems to boost popularity these days. Restaurant chains in Xi'an even held forums (according to local newspapers) discussing why our company is able to serve food while established Xi'an restaurants cannot get over here. We ignited the conversations.

 

Privy Interview Jason Wang Xi'am Famous Biang! Noodles Skewers Bok Choy

 

 

6.

 

How often do you visit Xi’an in China? What do you do while there?

 

I wish I had time to visit more often, but my last trip was 2 years ago. I always pay visits to my family, my ancestors, and of course, the street foods! Unfortunately, the street food in Xi'an is not what it used to be anymore, as it's becoming more commercialized and things are turning into stores instead of food carts, but it's still great to be back.

 

7.

 

If you had to eat outside of Xi’an Famous Foods, what are your top 5 places in NYC?

 

This list changes quite often as I eat too much of my favorites and start looking for new favorites. I'm skewing towards Asian cuisine these days. In no particular order: Basta Pasta, Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong, Hakata Tonton, Nyonya, and Jungsik.

 

8.

 

If and when you have any downtime, what are your hobbies?

 

Sleep is the best. I also like to just catch up on some of my TV shows. I watch pretty random stuff from “Family Guy” to “Orange Is the New Black” to “Game of Thrones” to “The Walking Dead.”

 

9.

 

What do you like about Privy and the promise it offers?

 

I think Privy provides a unique network that allows for closer relationships of its members, and some great things may be accomplished when great minds are put together.

 

Privy Interview Jason Wang Xi'an Famous Foods Spinach Dumplings

 

10.

 

Onto the Fun Stuff!

 

1. My last meal on Earth would be: This is a very difficult question, but I'd say the lamb steamed soup dumplings in Xi'an Muslim Quarter.

2. Home away from home: My home in Xi'an, which is where my grandfather lives.

3. Dream vacation: Along the Silk Road through Xinjiang and all the way to Iraq, hitting up historically interesting towns and cities along the diverse route.

4. Essential wardrobe item: Black t-shirts. They are so basic, but so easy to wear and match!

5. Essential gadget: My phone. I'm considered low-tech now, I guess, but my phone has everything I need and I cannot be without it.

6. Last great book I read: “Setting the Table” by Danny Meyer. Yes, my life revolves around my work these days.

 

Xi'an Famous Foods Storefront Jason Wang David Shi Li Piang Noodles

 

Photo Credits: Jason Wang, Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times, Forbes.com, Ken Maldonado/Wall Street Journal, Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

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