Xi’an Famous Foods
from Food Stall to Empire: A Profile of Jason Wangby Sophia Hsu Photo credit: www.xianfoods.com Jason Wang could not have imagined the empire that would come of the 200-square foot basement stall in the Golden Shopping Mall in Flushing that his father David Shi started in late 2005. A sense of filial piety pushed Jason to come back to help his father with the restaurant, but his keen business acumen is why we benefit from the Xi’an Famous Foods (XFF) empire that exists today. Growing an empire is time-consuming, so I caught up with Jason on the phone in a rare in-between moment.
Asian Fusion (AF): Did your father know when he was putting together the food stall and menu that this food, this nostalgia was destined to become an empire?
Jason Wang (JW): No, he was just making food he enjoyed and that, he thinks, other immigrants from our region of China would enjoy. It was not commercially driven, but more just about making a simple living with a craft he knows.
AF: You’ve mentioned that you miss certain smells and flavors of food from your hometown. Are you still chasing those nostalgic flavors?
JW: There are still certain flavors that belong to nostalgia alone, but I do want to get back in the kitchen and continue to innovate and improve our menus.
AF: Many immigrant Chinese families who open restaurants here in the US – a main reason being out of necessity because of immigration status or language barriers – do not expect their children to continue with the family business. Most moved to the US to pursue a better life for their children. My own parents make sure to remind me of that as often as possible. Do you think your father expected you to take over the restaurant when he started in 2005?
JW: When I graduated college, I went into the corporate world. I didn’t even think I would be joining him at the restaurant, but I had a desire to help out my father which meant helping out with the restaurant. I’m not sure what he expected my involvement with the restaurant would be since I hadn’t been raised in the restaurant life.
AF: Anthony Bourdain’s visit to Queens with his friend and culinary classmate Chef Chris Cheung, East Wind Snack Shop Brooklyn, really skyrocketed the name recognition of Xi’an Famous Foods. Many locals already knew of the stall and were regulars because of the reasonable prices, wonderful, nostalgic flavors, and satisfying portions. Now that a wider audience has been aware of the brand for nearly a decade now, have you gotten feedback from your loyal regulars about the growth in popularity?
JW: People appreciate the accessibility, but at the same time, there are concerns about our expansion. Some people comment online that the Flushing location tastes better than other locations or that our food is made by non-Chinese cooks sometimes, and that’s not authentic. A lot of it’s noise, and I don’t pay attention, because I know how good our product is. People will always have opinions about us, but it’s hard to say no to our flavors.
AF: Finally, what’s next? The empire has expanded beyond Queens into Manhattan and Brooklyn now with 12 locations and even one right next to MoMA. Where to next? Another borough? Another city? Another country?
JW: We’re looking at opening two to four more shops in the near future. Always keeping an eye out for the next smart move. Maybe Boston or even the Washington DC area.For the latest news about Xi’an Famous Foods, follow on social media or keep an eye on www.xianfoods.com.