A love of designer clothing, fine cars and new eateries are among the top interests young Chinese and American consumers have in common. A less-obvious connection, however, is their shared affinity for BBQ, tangy sauces, independence and wide open spaces.
Greg Walther, president and CEO of AmRest HK Limited, a joint venture between AmRest Holdings and Stubb’s Asia Ltd., explored these commonalities and spotted a great business opportunity. He eventually took his hunch global and opened the first Texas-style BBQ restaurant in the city center of Shanghai, China.
The restaurant is of course, Stubb’s — a
legendary, Austin, Texas-based BBQ joint that Christopher B. Stubblefield, (also known
as Mr. Stubb) opened 45 years ago, in 1968. Mr. Stubb had a lot of practice
serving up meals for large crowds.
During his tours of duty in Korea, he cooked for more than 10,000
soldiers as a mess sergeant in the U.S. Army. That experience led him to open his
first namesake restaurant when he returned home to the U.S.
Mr. Stubb passed away 17 years ago, but his legacy lives on. Today, Stubb’s all-natural sauces, marinades and rubs continue to make people feel good all over the world. Though he started with only one sauce, Stubb’s full line now contains six sauces, four marinades, two injectable marinades, five rubs, a "moppin’ sauce" and a wing sauce, all of which brings Texas flavor to any meal.
Texas Taste in Shanghai
In a city of 24 million people, where space is a commodity, most restaurants in Shanghai squeeze into spaces of 3,000 square feet or less. But keeping with the theme of “everything is bigger in Texas,” the Shanghai Stubb’s spans more than 5,500 square feet of dinning space. Other differentiating features include accordion doors on the front of the building, a J&R wood-fire smoker from Texas and a replica of the original Austin bar.
Walther says, “One thing we were careful of was sticking to the authenticity of the brand. This brand works for many reasons, all of which work together. If these are separated or changed, the brand ceases to be real and there are no longer the same brand touch points or customer experiences. For example, we had to use the original BBQ sauce produced in Texas. We could replicate it, but it wouldn’t be the same or real. Our customers love the fact that the sauce comes from Texas. We also had to use a smoker from Texas. We settled on a woodfired Southern Pride model and imported it into China.”
And in order to fuel the giant, two-ton smoker, the restaurant trucks in loads of hard northern China applewood each week. A group of 50 local men and women along with a few American expats make up the majority of the staff.
There are a few notable additions
to the Chinese menu. Stubb’s is serving more than BBQ and has expanded this
location’s repertoire to include burgers, steak and pasta dishes. Chinese consumers enjoy choices, and it is
important to have most of the normal U.S. restaurant choices available. However,
to date Stubb’s has sold much more BBQ than anything else. On tap are U.S.-brewed beers
“I won’t use
anything other than Coca-Cola products in my restaurants,” Walther says. But the Texas Two-Step is up for
interpretation. Walther has witnessed a local version of the Texas line dance "that’s sure to spice things
He continues, “Texas people are fun, and so are the Chinese.”
So, why Shanghai and not another Asian market? According to Walther, who previously lived in Asia and opened restaurants for Outback Steakhouses during the mid-90s and 2000s, it’s all about the demographics. “There are more than 24 million people who live in Shanghai, and a ton of young urban professionals make up that number, many of whom are looking for where and how to spend their disposable income. They eat out quite frequently, so what better time than now to open Stubb’s BBQ restaurant?”
But what’s BBQ without a band? At Austin location, Stubb’s is also well known for its music scene. With more than 150 shows a year and an amphitheater that can accommodate 2,000 people, it’s been said they serve as many songs as meals and launched country artist careers along the way. Blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan is rumored to have gotten his start there, and several other famous artists including Willie Nelson, John Lee Hooker and Johnny Cash have all graced the Stubb's stage.
True to that heritage, Stubb’s BBQ in Shanghai includes a stage with lights, a music board and an extensive audio system. “The amphitheater may come later,” said Walther. There are plans to hire local talent traveling through Shanghai.
Walther hopes that in addition to clothes, cars, eateries and BBQ, that young Chinese, like their American counterparts, will develop a love for a fiddle in the band. He has even partnered with the Texas Music Association to line up bands from the U.S. who are traveling to China to perform.
The Stubb’s Asian team is focused on building its reputation in Shanghai and is hopeful that with Walther’s hunches, they’ll soon be thriving and expanding to another five to 10 cities in China in the near future.
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