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Why ShopHouse should open in Raleigh

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The executives at Chipotle have delayed expansion of ShopHouse beyond the handful of locations in California, Maryland and Washington, D.C., but Chipotle CEO Steven Ellis recently hinted that expansion of the small, but popular, chain may not be too far into the future.

ShopHouse, like Chipotle, is a fast-casual concept named after the unique architectural buildings commonly found in Southeast Asia that often house quick-service restaurants. The menu and the build-your-own ordering process at ShopHouse is similar to that of the burrito chain, but soft tortillas and beans at Chipotle are swapped for noodles and rice topped with Southeast Asian-inspired curries, sauces and vegetables like stir-fried broccoli and charred corn instead.

Chipotle’s vaunted “Food with Integrity” commitment also extends over into ShopHouse. ShopHouse maintains that meat entrees, including the Grilled Chicken Satay and Grilled Steak Laab, are naturally-raised and free of antibiotics.

Raleigh is growing

A growing city like Raleigh is ripe for a concept like ShopHouse. Raleigh and the surrounding Triangle area, with its stable of good universities and colleges, consistently bolsters the well-educated citizenry (47% of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher). Combined with the tech-savvy and burgeoning population of young professionals and families, the demand for a convenient but healthy dining option is fast mounting.

Filling a void in the fast-casual ethnic segment

The fast-casual market nationally is hot right now, but here in Raleigh it seems too bloated with the glut of chicken sandwiches, gourmet burger and taco restaurants. More inimitable fast-casual spots like Raleigh’s own Venezuelan arepas restaurant Guasaca are too far and few in between.

Right now, Southeast Asian cuisine enthusiasts in Raleigh are relegated to two extremes: the more authentic-leaning mom-and-pop pho, Thai and Korean fried-chicken shops housed in strip malls along Capital Boulevard and to the higher-end Asian-fusion concepts in downtown Raleigh.

More sophisticated customers

And while not authentic (and not claiming to be so), ShopHouse could nicely bridge the gap between the mom-and-pop and the full-service downtown restaurant for those with a penchant for a casual, fresh and quality option for bold Southeast Asian flavors. Its association with Chipotle’s build-your-own reputation could also further assuage those not overly familiar with piquant curries and foreign-sounding ingredients like tamarind and Thai basil.

And if there’s a sect of the population that would be hesitant to give the bold flavors of ShopHouse a try, popular mobile apps like Yelp have only fostered a mushrooming legion of erudite foodies impassioned by even more adventurous and diversified dining options. The same new, young generation of bon-vivants, seem to also increasingly pay acute attention to food sourcing and the ethical and environmental practices of restaurants and its owners. ShopHouse manages to serve ethically-sourced, flavorful dishes with high standards of quality, and perhaps the most important, still maintains a level of affordability for most.

ShopHouse owners remain tight-lipped about expansion plans nationally, but hopefully when the time is right, Raleigh will be home to a location not so far off in the distance.

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