New York City, Dec. 23, 2015, (xinhua) — “The Chinese food is popular in the United States. There are more than 43,000 establishments, and with an annual sales of over 25 billion dollars, it is the secondly most popular takeout cuisine in America,” said Wang Rui, a co-founder of Cuckoo Kitchen.
Screen shot of Cuckoo’s website on Dec. 23, 2015.
However, despite its popularity, most Chinese food in America is perceived as unhealthy and low quality, said Wang, who used to be an actuary in a big insurance company with a high-paying managerial position which he quit months ago.
“We hope to elevate the way Chinese food is perceived, ordered and consumed in America by providing healthier and more convenient meal kits online and delivered nationwide within 24 hours,” he said.
In 2012, Wang started a successful restaurant called Chinger (short for Chinese Burger) which sells traditional Chinese Xi’an street food in New York in his spare time. As a meticulous actuary who graduated from Tsinghua University (known as the MIT of China), he used his mathematic skills to create an executable 100-page manual detailing precise instructions for every operational aspects of store operations.
Soon after Chinger’ success, Wang planned to start a Chinger franchise in New York. However after further market research, he hesitated and began questioning the retail chain model.
“The food market has changed. On one hand, the cost of running physical restaurants is getting higher, and on the other hand, growing number of conventional retail business bite the dust with unstoppable impact of Internet sales,” said Wang.
“How can e-commerce model be applied to the food industry? How can healthier and high-quality Chinese food be prepared and delivered in a way that meets customer needs? How to ensure high quality and taste? How to deliver the food to customers within 24 hours?”
To answer these questions with absolute certainty, Wang set out to experiment with the ways to turn traditionally cooked Chinese food into standardized and streamlined process through central kitchen with one of his partners, John Zhang.
After proving the model would work, in the spring of 2015, Wang resigned from his actuary position and started Cuckoo Kitchen with Zhang and the third partner, Mark Yuan.
They opened a corporate office in Manhattan, and put the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified central kitchen into operation in June.
From the very beginning, Cuckoo Kitchen prepares meal kits freshly in its USDA approved central kitchen in Clifton NJ.
This eliminates expensive retail space, centralizes food prep operation, increases economy of scale and enables 24 hour delivery to customers in most of eight northeastern states of the U.S.
“All meal kits are designed by Master Chefs from China using all natural high quality ingredients such as antibiotic-free chicken and organic tofu,” said Wang.
He also believes in elevating Chinese food image and quality by eliminating any added MSG, food coloring and all other artificial additives in all of the ingredients and the processes.
Currently, customers can order their dishes online 24/7, and meal kits are shipped to them in temperature-controlled box overnight. All meal kits have four-day shelf life in the fridge upon arrival, and when customers are ready to eat, they can easily follow a simple and fast 3-minute cooking instruction to prepare an authentic Chinese dish.
“Nowadays, parents are so busy. If with our products, moms can be liberated from daily cooking chore by quickly preparing delicious and healthier meals in minutes, I think we provide value to their lives as well as to the society,” said Wang.
When asked about why he would leave behind a high-paying job in his 40′ s to devote fully in a startup, Wang smiled and said “on the day I left the company, I wrote in the Wechat (a Chinese social media platform) ‘Life is short, it is my time to pursue my dream.'”
Talking about the future, Rui is excited and hopeful. “First, we want to make sure our dishes can be delivered overnight to all of customers across the country. This would require several regional central kitchens.We hope to become a platform for many famous Chinese culinary brands to test and enter the U.S market with less investment, uncertainty and risk,” said Wang.