"I think that one day we're going to be bigger in China than we are in the US," P.F. Chang's CEO said.
P.F. Chang's is expanding into China — as an "American bistro."
The 288-location Asian restaurant chain, which was formerly called P.F. Chang's China Bistro, plans to open its first location in Shanghai in early 2018.
"In America, we've gotten to the point where restaurant companies put food in bags and heat them up," instead of making food from scratch, CEO Michael Osanloo told Business Insider. "We've tested this positioning — 'scratch made.' In China, they're like, how else would you do it?"
Instead, P.F. Chang's found that the American bistro concept resonated best in tests with Chinese consumers. The company is otherwise sticking to what has worked in US restaurants, with the similar decor and most of the same menu items.
"What we think of a 'Chinese' food, it's just food," Osanloo said.
P.F. Chang's has avoided the sit-down casual dining slump that has plagued the American restaurant industry in recent years. The chain outperformed casual dining rivals by 75.6% in sales and 81.7% in foot traffic in the first quarter in 2017, according to the APT index.
Now, the chain is ramping up international expansion. P.F. Chang's plans to open 12 to 14 new locations internationally in 2018, in countries including China, Bolivia, and Pakistan.
"I think that one day we're going to be bigger in China than we are in the US," Osanloo said.
Osanloo isn't too concerned with questions of P.F. Chang's cultural authenticity. The chain's menu includes a wide range of items including lettuce wraps, Chang's Chicken, and butternut squash dumplings — some with roots in China and Japan, some invented fully by P.F. Chang's American chefs.
"If you want a classic Japanese sushi experience, you're not going to come to us," Osanloo said. "But if you want some amazing rolls — that are pretty traditional, delicious — we rock at that."
"Nobody is going to give us credit," when P.F. Chang's draws from traditional Chinese recipes, Osanloo said. "I'm not sure I care."