Kauffman: In the chain-averse Bay Area, why are we so crazy for Asian restaurant chains?

I think its less so of this:
‘We Bay Area diners do seem to rush to embrace chains that seem exotic to local tastes’

than it is this:
‘Perhaps what we line up for is novelty, the very opposite of what restaurant chains provide.’

ETA: I think there are other stronger factors at work, though. I have to think that through.


To oversimplify, I think the food in Asian chains tends to be better because their breeding ground is typically high-end urban shopping malls, where there is competition for the dollars of patrons with relatively more sophisticated tastes. American chains tend to begin as scattered, roadside businesses where convenience trumps quality.


You have a point that some of those chains are good options even back home. I think some of those better chains showing up are a little bit like if a Bay Area expat in Seoul getting excited about Tartine or B Patisserie showing up.

That said, I think the chain-averse Bay Area population is a different population from the group who frequent these restaurants. It is quite common to see even good restaurants operating as mini-chains in Asia.

Do you think economics plays a role too? Chains in the US tend to have cheaper food. OTOH, DTF in Shanghai is way more expensive than smaller shops serving similar dumplings. Are Asian chains more expensive in general in Asia compared to mom and pops?

I think Souperman hit it here. These chains mentioned are the higher end chain from Asia. Din Tai Fung, although not a high end restaurant, is a relatively high end among the soup dumpling restaurants. Moreover, these chains bring some quality and legitimacy from Asia to US.

1 Like

Eh. I think everyone’s overthinking here.

The correct answer is, I think, that the premise is incorrect: Bay Area diners are not, in fact, chain-averse. They aren’t averse to Asian chains, and they also aren’t averse to non-Asian chains. (I remember all the hysteria over Krispy Kreme coming to the Bay, but there are plenty of less-dramatic examples. Jack in the Box was many, many people’s late-night food of choice when I was in my 20s, and people went nuts over Halal Guys’s arrival simply because it was frequently discussed by people who had tried it in New York.) The fact is that any novel concept that 1) has a lot of marketing hype behind it, 2) doesn’t have a reputation for terrible food, and 3) is considered a big deal by people somewhere else, will probably attract large crowds of people who want to brag that they were among the first to check it out. (Ahem.)

The Bay Area’s laws are chain-averse, because they reflect the preferences of a small minority of people who have historically had an amount of power that is very disproportionate to their actual numbers. But that is not the same thing.

1 Like

I was thinking about this for a few days and ended up forgetting to reply.

There is a certain anti-chain sentiment in the Bay Area, which I guess its related to the anti-corporate/ anti-mass-produced sentiments and preference for small-batch artisan foodstuff. But I’ve never really observed the same sentiment in Asia. So immigrants from Asia certainly doesn’t have the same anti-chain sentiments.

There is not one monolithic group of Bay Area diners.

With that said, I am not sure if people are automatically crazy about Asian chains, and Kauffman mentioned that in the article. Bonchon I passed by always seem to be empty these days. Paris Baguette doesn’t seem to be that hot any more. Over-expansion? Maybe if they have 3 Din Tai Fungs instead of 1, there won’t be that many people waiting to eat.

Right, that’s what I’m getting at. The people who made all the laws about formula retail are those in the first category. But they are mostly an aging, white, highly privileged minority. The average person doesn’t really care about this at all, let alone enough to start going to public meetings to yell at supervisors about it.

(For what it’s worth, I think a lot of people who hate chains enough to demand laws restricting them are less motivated by hostility to corporations and more by rank NIMBYist impulses. They think SF is their own personal village and they want to be able to curate their environment just so to fit their idea of what is “nice” for people of their class to have in their neighborhoods.)

NIMBY is too mild a term. They are BANANAS. BANANA=Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

Hi there, Aaron Peskin!