Xiaolongkan, one of China’s largest hot pot chains, is bringing its famous spicy soup to New York as early as the first quarter of next year, the company says.
The Chengdu-based chain recently signed a lease for a 500-square-meter space in a new commercial complex in Flushing, one of New York’s biggest Chinatowns.
It will be the chain’s first outpost in the United States.
Xiaolongkan has over 800 locations in China. Although just five years old, it’s become one of the most popular hot pot chains in the country, with wait times often reaching several hours.
The star of the show is its broth made with beef lard, Sichuan chilis, and Sichuan peppers, which give it the region’s characteristic mala 麻辣, or numbingly spicy, flavor.
But what makes the chain stand out is its decor, which borrows from the wood panels of traditional Chinese homes.
This combination has made Xiaolongkan incredibly popular in China, where there’s even a running joke that people will go as far as dating a waiter there just to get a coveted table.
A hot market
Hot pot is the most popular sit-down dining option in China, where it accounts for 14% of the country’s $580 billion dining sector, according to a report by consulting firm iiMedia Research.
And this communal way of eating—where a group of people gather around a simmering broth and dip raw slices of meat, vegetables, and other ingredients—is gaining traction overseas.
(Read more: A guide to all the Chinese hot pot styles)
Xiaolongkan plans to add nine more hot pot restaurants outside of China in the next two years. It currently has 10 overseas locations in Australia, Canada, Singapore, and New Zealand.
“The U.S. is an important market that we are focusing on right now,” says Liu Yin, director of operations at Chengdu Xiaolongkan Catering Management, operator of Xiaolongkan. “The market potential is huge.”
And Xiaolongkan is not alone. Many hotpot chains are setting their eyes beyond China.
Haidilao, China’s largest hot pot chain, said developing its overseas portfolio would be a focus when it raised nearly $1 billion from a Hong Kong IPO last year.
Liu sees growing demand for not just hot pot but also Chinese food in general in the United States, where diners are becoming more discerning about quality and regional diversity.
“It’s not just hot pot,” Liu says. “The whole Chinese food dining [scene] is just beginning to experience an upgrade in consumption.”
Liu says Xiaolongkan plans to start with targeting Chinese people living abroad and eventually hopes to win over other customers.
Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.