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Taiwanese Fast Food Entrepreneur - 2002-04-19

English Feature #7-34503 Broadcast Febuary 12, 2001

Drive-through fast-food restaurants are a popular phenomenon in this country that fits the fast-paced American life style. Today on New American Voices Oksana Dragan will introduce you to Mark Kuan, an entrepreneur from Taiwan, who adapted this idea to his own business, a restaurant serving Chinese food.

"It's very simple. You drive your car up to the speaker, right in front of you there's a menu. Then you order from the menu and talk to the speaker. We take the order from the microphone, then we start cooking, and on average in five minutes, less than five minutes, we can handle an order."

Big chains like McDonald's and Burger King have been serving their customers hamburgers and french fries through their car windows for years. But Mark Kuan was the first to see the potential of this system for a Chinese restaurant. He opened Kuan's Kitchen in Pueblo, Colorado - a small city of 98,000 people - eight years ago, and has now expanded to two restaurants. The secret, he says, is to prepare all ingredients in advance, and to use food processors as much as possible in order to save time. Even though the dishes have to be simple so that they can be prepared quickly, Kuan's Kitchen has a menu of some 40 to 50 items, each costing between three and five dollars. Given the price and the convenience, it is not surprising that the restaurant does a brisk business.

"Weekends more, but on the weekday we serve like 280 to 350. But on the weekend we jump like to 450. Mostly at lunch usually it's the business person, they don't have too much time, either they have a sandwich or they come here. At nighttime sometimes the family they don't want to cook and they don't want to go out to eat, so they just come here and order a whole package."

Mr. Kuan believes that there are three key elements to a running a successful drive-through restaurant.

"Location is very important. You have to be convenient. Come in and go, it must be very easy. The second is the management. How you can manage the kitchen, to match what the customer requires, like they don't want to wait too long, or the price, they don't want to spend too much money, but you have to keep up the quality of your food. And the third one is the service. Because even if it's a drive-through, you have to give them a little bit of service, like very polite, very professional."

Mark Kuan did not learn the restaurant business in Taiwan. He came to the United States as a penniless young man fifteen years ago.

"Well, to tell the truth I learned how to cook Chinese food in America. When I came to America I really can't find a job, so I work in a Chinese restaurant, and I end up, I say, 'Well, at least I can survive, and it provides me a good income', so I learned my cooking from American restaurants."

Visiting a friend in Pueblo, Colorado, Mark Kuan fell in love with the town, situated in the foothills of the spectacular Colorado Rockies. He says he decided to settle there and get away from the traffic-congested cities of the Northeast. He met and married a Japanese-American woman. His only regret is that their five-year-old daughter is growing up without the benefit of a Chinese community to strenghten her links to her Chinese heritage, which he would like her to maintain.

"Well, I'd like her to, but if it's just me, I probably can't give her too much, because she was born and raised in this country, so all the Chinese traditional customs and whatever… she probably get a little bit, but it's different. But I would like her to have both [traditions]. I do my best."

As for himself, Mark Kuan, who is in his forties, is not content with what he has achieved thus far. He has big plans for the future.

"Well, I would like to expand my Kuan's Kitchen, the restaurant, to open another one and another one. The way I see it, my food is better than McDonald's. If McDonald's can have like thousands in the world, why not I can't? It's probably just a goal, but I'll try to do it."

Next week you'll meet immigrants from India who try to make sure that their children, growing up in America and surrounded by American pop culture, nevertheless know and appreciate their South Asian heritage.