WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON IN TUSTIN?
You don't have to have been around Hot Shots or Slow Burn Marketing very long to know we bang the gong for the F-word.
Focus! Focus! Focus!
Yes, we love us the focus.
And as an adjunct to brand focus, I have long been a proponent of the focus-driven restaurant model.
For me, one of the finest such brands is the long-lost Killer Shrimp in Los Angeles.
CAN YOU GUESS WHAT THEY SERVED?
You got it: Shrimp.
It came one of two ways: as peel & eat shrimp simmered in a secret blend of herbs and spices, or as peeled shrimp simmered in a secret blend of herbs and spices.
Every time I was at the location in Marina del Rey, it was packed.
But, as with so many legendary favorites, it eventually closed. It went on to become merely a legend.
But not before a good, long run.
Recently, the name was resurrected for a chain of restaurants with a broad menu that seems to be doing its best to hang on, despite having closed two of three locations.
And if you read the reviews, it sounds as if Killer Shrimp lost its specialness in an attempt to become more things to more people.
IT SOUNDS LIKE THE LACK OF FOCUS UNDID THEM
Yet, as a student of the restaurant business, looking at it from the outside as a marketing guy, I remain fascinated by the single-item menu model.
It streamlines operations.
It keeps away anyone but a customer interested in the one thing you serve.
And done properly, it can be a gold mine.
Which is why, when the website FastCasual.com reported on Yang's Braised Chicken Rice opening a store in Southern California, I was intrigued.
YOU'VE PROBABLY NEVER HEARD OF YANG'S BRAISED CHICKEN RICE
This chain has 6,000 units.
And their average unit in China serves an average of 400,000 dishes daily.
Yes, according to Fast Casual's report, that is 400,000 dishes per location every day .
But despite a presence in China, Singapore, Japan and Australia, they've never had a store in the US.
This has been news in the industry press for some time.
But the actual restaurant hadn't been open--until now.
HERE NOW, THE GOOD
This menu is everything you could possibly want in a simplistic, streamlined model of operational efficiency.
They sell exactly one dish: Mr. Xiao Lu Yang's secret family recipe for Huang Men braised chicken and rice.
He learned how to cook at his grandmother's knee, and her recipe, tweaked over the years, is the one that he serves.
This dish has helped him skyrocket to fame, opening those 6,000 locations in just six years.
For a relative barometer, California-based Panda Express is 33 years old, and has almost 2,000 restaurants in the US, Puerto Rico, Guam, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates.
Opening 6,000 restaurants in six years, Yang's Braised Chicken And Rice has been busy.
FAST CASUAL CALLS THE CHAIN A "ONE-DISH WONDER"
They say that the secrets to "Yang's gangbusters success is his one-dish model and the high quality of its sauce."
Mr. Yang is quoted in the article as saying, "Our innovative single-item menu is rooted in tradition, with our braised chicken recipe passed down and perfected over the years."
Fast Casual goes on to say, "While other concepts often juggle complicated menus and offer a variety of choices, Yang focuses on one dish only. The only other thing on the menu is soft drinks."
Says Mr. Yang, "With a single menu item and consistency in ingredients, we were able to quickly scale up operations across China to meet rising demand."
And according to reports, Yang's single US location is relying Yang's original secret sauce, which is being imported directly from China.
SO YOU'D THINK IT WOULD BE A HIT, RIGHT?
It's a global phenomenon.
People love it!
It contains Mr. Yang's proprietary sauce with Grandma's magic touch.
The limited menu is designed specifically for ease of replication and quick scaling up.
How hard can it be to create a huge splash?
Just ask Yelp.
THE OPENING IN TUSTIN DEMONSTRATES DISCONNECT AND DISAPPOINTMENT
After a soft open that doesn't sound like it went all that well, Yang's officially opened its doors to the public on September 10.
People stood in enormous lines to come and sample the world famous Chinese braised chicken.
And they left disappointed.
Many didn't care for what they described as a simple dish exhibiting none of the savory delight that has been described in glowing media reports.
Some diners described a fatty, skin-laden dish that required cherry-picking the meat from the fatty, unappetizing bits.
But far and away, the biggest complaints were about the long wait for mediocre food, the lousy communication, and the rampant disappointment.
Maybe a Chinese location can serve 400,000 bowls of chicken and rice daily.
THE TUSTIN LOCATION HAS HAD A PROBLEM TURNING OUT 1/10,000 OF THAT QUANTITY
There have been reports of volume limited to 40 portions.
There have been rampant complaints about published hours not coinciding with actual hours.
There have been complaints about mystery reservations being required.
There have been complaints of standing in line for two hours only to be told there's no food left.
The impending opening of Yang's Braised Chicken was big news.
The reality of the opening of Yang's Braised Chicken has been disappointment and anger.
ONE OF THE WORST THINGS A BRAND CAN DO IS WASTE YOUR TIME
Especially in a business model that's all about efficiency, speed and scalability, you'd think that the place could be better than inefficient, creeping and unattainable.
It really is a mystery.
Opening this store was a big deal. As Mr. Yang himself said in the Fast Casual story, "Our main focus right now is the first U.S. store. We want to make sure that the flavor is right, the service is right, our guests' feedback has been heard and we can perfect this store."
Maybe it's because they're so far removed from their home base in China.
But when you have a business that obviously isn't ready to serve people, why would you go ahead with the open?
Yes, I admit that I have been a proponent of the Mark Zuckerberg aphorism that "Done is better than perfect."
But I'm equally a proponent of another aphorism: "You get only one chance to make a first impression."
DONE MIGHT BE BETTER THAN PERFECT, BUT INEPT IS A FAR CRY FROM GOOD ENOUGH
And that 2.5-star average rating currently on Yelp, and the word-of-mouth accompanying it, are all going to hurt Yang's Braised Chicken and Rice in Tustin far more than delaying the opening would have.
Interestingly, the Yang's brand is a big brand. It's huge in China and Down Under.
And it's a big brand that has a lot of drive from small-business owners.
A lot of the people who've opened Yang's franchises are customers who fell in love with the product.
Mr. Yang himself has said that his business has helped thousands of people realize a dream of owning a business and creating job opportunities.
It seems, though, that such dream and opportunity is going to be on hold in the US for a bit.
They need to get it squared away.
I am hopeful.
BRAND FOCUS IS GOOD--BUT YOU NEED TO BE SURE YOU'RE ALSO FOCUSING ON YOUR CUSTOMER
If you're not ready to launch, don't launch.
If you're not ready to serve, don't try.
If you're going to publish your hours, don't change them on the fly.
If you want an event to be big, be sure you're big enough to make it so.
Wasting your customers' time is going to create ill will.
And in an age of instant online vitriol, word of disappointment is going to spread quickly.
Yang's may be big enough to survive this initial failure.
Their focus is intense, and their resources are vast.
But most small business owners will not have such luxury.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
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Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.