Fusion Futures for Fast-Food Chains

By: Michael Engle

Last year, I followed America's Next Great Restaurant, a now-defunct reality show. With Iron Chef Bobby Flay and Chipotle Mexican Grill CEO Steve Ells among the judges, ANGR's objective was to sift through the show's competitors and to find a marketable fast-casual restaurant. Though a soul food restaurant won the show's grand prize, including the resulting restaurant locations in New York City, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis, I was personally impressed by a fast-food Indian concept, which finished as a co-runner-up. Throughout the judging, a common question was asked of the Indian concept: "Do you serve Indian food, or are you Chipotle?" Fortunately, these two approaches may no longer be so mutually exclusive.

The New York Times' John T. Edge recently profiled a new Denver-based fast food establishment, The Bombay Bowl. The Bombay Bowl stays true to authentic Indian flavors, but takes drastic liberties with its presentations and combinations. Adhering to a Chipotle tradition, this new Indian fast-food restaurant can take any protein, and place it in a bowl, on a plate, or in the middle of a roti wrap. Meanwhile, Boston-based Chutney's offers lamb seekh kabob "naanini" sandwiches, and Toronto-based Veda sells "tandisserie," or tandoori-spiced rotisserie chicken.

At the heart of these new ethnic fast food establishments is the element of customization. "Having it your way," at these restaurants, entails mixing and matching each dish with endless combinations of proteins, sauces, and degrees of heat. Meanwhile, if a neighborhood (such as anywhere in New York City) were to require that calorie counts be posted alongside each product, it would have the additional benefit of allowing health-conscious patrons to maintain their diets while exploring new cuisines. It is hard to glean any negative consequences from this emerging trend and pretty soon, international flavors could be as easy as, "#1, chicken, bowl, spicy!"

Photo: Min Lee

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