California-based fast casual Asian Box will add seven new projects in Northern and Southern California over the next year, following a recent $3.5 million funding round from existing and new investors.

The four-year-old brand has five locations in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California, offering customizable “boxes” with a base of salad, rice, or noodles, and a variety of toppings.

“Now that we have the right real estate deals and the right team, it’s the best time to accelerate growth,” says the brand’s CEO and founder, Frank Klein.

Asian Box partnered with California-based real estate services firm Location3 to help identify locations that would fit in with the brands’ ideal consumer through its demographic and focus group research.

Klein says the brand believes one of the keys to success—particularly in the fast-casual segment—is through “honest real estate dealings and honest landlords.”

“[They are] going to tell you what their tenancy is and tell you if they’re going to put a competitor next to you within the first year or two of your lease,” he says. “We’re willing to [also] expose our plans to start a partnership with the right landlords, and I believe we’ve found those.”

Asian Box will still keep its customizable menu approach but will offer more curated and composed dishes in the expansion, Klein says, with options like the Catfish Box—made with sustainably farmed Passmore Ranch California fish with caramel sauce.

Other curated boxes include the Miss Jones, with lemongrass pork, chilled noodles, sauce-tossed vegetables, caramel egg, and extra fish sauce alongside the customizable topping offerings, and the Ox Box with double garlic-and-soy glazed beef, Jasmine rice, sauce-tossed veggies, all toppings, caramel egg, sriracha, and “Asian Street Dust,” a dry spice blend that is sweet and salty.

Each new location will showcase repurposed materials in darker hues juxtaposed with brighter colors that the brand says reflects the vibrancy and freshness of the food. Asian Box is also partnering with local art and design firms, including B+N Industries, which works with international artists to produce panel artwork incorporated in the new design.

“We’re taking a curated approach to art and design to represent the evolving Asian Box brand, and the diverse communities it serves,” Klein says.

To get ingrained in the new communities in which it will open, Klein says Asian Box has partnered with companies like DoorDash, which delivers food from local restaurants to users, and has also focused on community support and charitable giving.

“We’ve always been very supportive of communities, whether it’s a little league team or an elementary school, but now we’re getting into more heavy charitable giving,” Klein says, adding that Asian Box hopes to double its 2016 charitable giving amount across its locations in 2017.

The brand’s Burlingame, California, location is expected to open this month, with new locations in San Jose and San Francisco expected to open in February.

Klein says it’s possible Asian Box may expand outside of California, but for now the brand is focused on the state’s broad market and will take expansion slowly.

“I think because of the nature of available real estate now, the world is being flooded with fast-casual concepts,” he says. “We plan on focusing on [California] first, but we’ll be opportunistic and if the right real estate comes on then we will do something, but for right now we’re happy staying on the West Coast and doing what we’re doing.”

By Alex Dixon

Fast Casual, Fast Food, Growth, News, Asian Box