- The Cheesecake Factory’s fast casual concept Social Monk Asian Kitchen opens Monday in Thousand Oaks, California, nearly two years after executives first discussed the idea.
- Social Monk’s menu will feature sandwiches, salads, noodles, bowls, beer, wine and dessert, with flavor profiles from Thailand, China, Vietnam and India, according to Eater. Guests will order at the counter and be served at their table.
- The Cheesecake Factory also owns RockSugar Southeast Asian Kitchen and Grand Lux Café, and is reportedly planning to acquire North Italia from Fox Restaurants by the end of the third quarter.
Social Monk marks The Cheesecake Factory’s debut in the fast casual segment, the fastest-growing restaurant market between 2013 and 2018. The company appears to be going all-in on this opening, putting a hold on development of its full-service brands Grand Lux Cafe and RockSugar Southeast Asian Kitchen. The company is also leveraging the culinary experience of RockSugar chef Mohan Ismail to develop Social Monk’s menu.
During the company’s earnings call last week, Cheesecake executives noted, however, that they are not giving up on Grand Lux or RockSugar but are reviewing the performance of both. The chain also says it has performance improvements in place for RockSugar, according to the company's February earnings call.
Additionally, CEO David Overton said there are plans to open six new Cheesecake Factory restaurants throughout the rest of 2019. No plans were disclosed about Social Monk’s growth strategy. Leading up to now, Cheesecake’s development approach for its secondary concepts has been slow and steady. After 10 years in the business, for example, RockSugar has just two locations.
It will be interesting to see how The Cheesecake Factory takes on its first fast casual brand. There are plenty of opportunities here. Despite the increasing demand, Asian cuisine is not nearly as saturated in the segment compared to burgers, sandwiches or pizza. In 2016, for example, just 8.6% of the top 500 chains in the country were Asian. Yet, according to Euromonitor, Asian food is the fastest-growing cuisine in the U.S., growing 135% between 1999 and 2015.
Such opportunities may not automatically translate into success, however. The market is tough to crack, as Chipotle learned with its failed ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen concept, which closed all locations in 2017.
But less than two years later, the landscape is significantly different, and Cheesecake has quickly and successfully gained experience in off-premise business. During Q4, Cheesecake’s off-premise business generated 15% of the chain’s total sales. As off-premise channels like delivery continue to grow and level the playing field between concepts big and small across all segments, this could be a key factor in Social Monk’s success — on top of a differentiated menu and a fast-fine approach.