Chipotle's coveted spinoff, ShopHouse SouthEast Asian Kitchen, finally arrives in the city of Chicago this afternoon in The Loop. The fast-casual spot serves rice bowls and curries, using flavors from Thailand and the same assembly-line experience deployed at Chipotle. The concept originated in Washington, D.C., expanded to Los Angeles, and opened last month in suburban Schaumburg. Expect to see additional ShopHouses around Chicago after management gets a better idea of the market.
Tim Wildin, ShopHouse's director of concept development, sat down with Eater Chicago last month for an interview, and in honor of their arrival at 24 E. Jackson Blvd., here's a few facts about the chain which now operates 13 locations:
What is a shophouse? It's a term used in Southeast Asia to describe a building where the owners live and work, with the residence upstairs and the business, like a restaurant, on the first floor.
Chipotle founder and co-CEO Steve Ells wants to serve different cuisines using Chipotle's assembly-line and open kitchen. Wildin pitched the idea in 2010, and took Ells to Bangkok and Singapore where they ate at shophouses and night markets: "He fell in love with the cuisine," Wildin said.
Wildin was born in Bangkok and his mother is Thai, and along with culinary manager of Nate Appleman, they opened the first ShopHouse in 2011. That connection to Asia helped fuel the passion for the concept.
Despite any arguments over authenticity, ShopHouse strives to use the Chipotle's concept to make Thai/Malaysian food less intimidating: "I think the format in which we serve it is really cool because it helps demystifies it for some people," Wildin said. "I speak Thai, so it's never a problem for me— but how many times do you go to a Thai restaurant and the really long menu is like these phonetically-spelled out named in Thai? As an American you may not know how to navigate the menu."
ShopHouse clings to Chipotle's "food with integrity" mantra, stressing an attempt to reduce carbon footprints. That may seem like it would inflate prices, but Wildin said collective buying power and a massive customer base helps: "With scale, we're able to price out menu really fairly. So bowls are priced well under $10, it's like —not exact— $7.25 or something, $7.15 for a chicken bowl, $7.75 for a pork and chicken meatballs."
Unlike the D.C. and L.A. markets, Chicagoans already knew about the Chiptole-ShopHouse connection, Wildin said. He credits that to the Chipotle Cultivate, the festival that called Chicago home from 2011-2013, where they served ShopHouse food.
ShopHouse is testing online ordering only in Hollywood, so smartphones and the Internet will be useless —at least at first— in circumventing lines in Chicago.
Chicago and Schaumburg have an exclusive item: Pork and chicken spring rolls. This cold item features shredded green papaya, cucumber, mint wrapped with a rice paper.
They will serve beer, including Half Acre's Daisy Cutter and a few Asian selections.
24 E Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60604
1022 N. Meacham, Schaumburg, IL 60173