In the early days of China’s reform and opening up, KFC and McDonald’s successively entered the Chinese mainland market. In the decades that followed, the two Western fast-food chains opened more than 10,000 stores in this oriental country.
While being loved by Chinese consumers, “chain brands like KFC or McDonald’s” have also become the shinning example in the Chinese catering industry. Countless Chinese catering enterprises are learning from KFC or McDonald’s and trying to establish equally successful chain brands.
But the road is so difficult that few people reach the finish line, except for Shaxian Delicacies.
By the end of 2020, Shaxian Delicacies had more than 30, 000 stores on Chinese mainland, more than McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut and Burger King combined.
Overseas, it has entered the Japanese, American, French, Portuguese and Malaysian markets. You may have seen its iconic green Pac-Man Logo in Tokyo and Brooklyn.
How on earth did Shaxian overcome many difficulties to become the most extensive Chinese fast food chain brand? This article will introduce you in detail.
What can you eat in Shaxian Delicacies?
Of course we are sharing the comercial story of Shaxian Delicacies, yet we could never describe a catering enterpirse without talking about its menu.
Theoretically, the menu of food chain brand should be uniform in different place, yet it is not the case for Shaxian Delicacies. In different regions, Shaxian Delicacies will offer slightly different dishes with slightly different prices. We will explain the phenomenon later.
Therefore, compared to a catering chain brand, Shaxian is more like a style of cuisine. Despite there are differences in menus of different restaurants, Shaxian always remind eaters some specific dishes. It is obvious that you would not expect dumplings in a pizza store.
A typical Shaxian will contain 7 categories of food, which are noodles, Huntun, dumpling, stew with soup, braised food, fried rice and combo meal.
Each categories may contain 10-20 different dishes, which means just on one Shaxian restaurant could serve more than 100 different products.
No need for surprising. Shaxian has a very mature menu system. Using noodle as an example, it provides two sub-categories which are noodles and rice noodles, and each sub-categories divides into different flavors based on the distinct ingredients. For instance, it contains beef noodle, beef rice noodle, duck leg noodle and duck leg rice noodle.
In addition, using duck leg as the main ingredient, you could find duck leg rice combo under the “combo” category and duck leg fried rice under the “fried rice” category.
It means that the essence of Shaxian`s menu is the permutation of Chinese cooking method and food materials.
However, don`t consider this combination as meaningless. In fact, it is highly depand on the dish design skill of the company. In May 2015, Zhang Xin, the office manager of Shaxian Delicacies said in an interview that Shaxian had four specialties, which are Bianrou, Banmian, stew pot and steamed dumpling.
Bianrou, of which literal translation is flat meat, is actually the dialect of Huntun, is the top specialty of Shaxian. Compared with Huntun in other regions, Bianrou has thiner piece of dough and smoother mouothfeeling. The meat filling is made of pure lean of pig hind legs to provide the chewy taste.
Huntun filling in other regions are usually made of meat which is minced repeatedly with knife, yet the filling meat of Bianrou is meat paste which made by thumping with stick. It is said that to make 500 g meat paste with such cooking methodneeds thumping more than 1000 times.
The soup for boiling Bianrou is not water, but the pork bone stock similar to the Japanese ramen. Whether the Bianrou it self or the soup base has strong meat aroma, yet it has no greasy taste. A spoonful of Bianrou not only contain a Bianrou but also filled with meat soup, serving eaters with the best experience.
Shaxian provide more than 20 different noodle dishes, yet Banmian is always the most popular dish.
The banmian of Shaxian is made of soda water noodle and may only boiled for dozens of seconds. The noodle cooked with this method can have the maxmized chewvy mouthfeel. Combined with different suace, noodle becomes dishes with different flavour. Generally, there are aromatic banmian, spring onion oil banmian and peanut paste (different from the weatern peanut butter) banmian.
The sauce of aromatic flavour is mixed with peanut paste, sesame paste, salt, chicken powder, minced garlic and edible oil. Chef puts the seasoners into the pan and stir-fry, then pour the sauce on the noodle.
Shaxian means the Sha County in Chinese. This county is located in Fujian Province in southern China. It means that using different food materials to cook soup is a local specialty.
Of course Shaxian will serve you with the yummy soup. A Shaixan restaurant will boil dozens of different kinds of soup every day and all are pre-cooked and keep heated. It means eaters could be immediately served withoud waiting, which is valuable for urban consumers.
Different kinds of soup are made of different parts of pig, such as pork ribs, pork heart, pork lung and pork belly, boiling with traditional Chinese medicines with flavouring effect such as lycium chinense, female ginseng, American ginseng and jujube. Therefore, these soup dishes are not only tasty but also good for health.
Steamed dumpling is also another signature dish of Shaxian Delicacies. Like the bianrou, the major difference between Shaxian`s steamed dumpling and other restaurants` is the filling meat. The meat paste is also thumped by stick, then added simple seasoners which including salt, chicken powder, little soy sauce, minced spring onion and bruised ginger.
Shaxian`s steamed dumpling is also called willow leaf dumpling because its folds are designed in the shape of willow leaves.
In addition, the authentic Shaxian Delicacies also provide many recommendable balls. These balls are made of different materials such as pork, beef, fish and tofu. All the balls are made with the same cooking method we have talked about above – thumping ingredients into paste with a stick then shaping into balls with hands. This method could help food fibre fully wrapped and form special mouthfeel.
The history of Shaxian Delicacies
When talking about the history of Shaxian Delicacies, we have to talk about its nature first.
Even many Chinese and loyal consumers of Shaxian Delicacies do not know that it is in fact a Chinese state-owned enterprise.
According to public equity information, the ultimate controlling shareholder of Shaxian Delicacies Group Co., Ltd. is Sha county Transportation Bureau, which is an administrative department of the county.
At this time, a new question arises: generally speaking, China’s state-owned enterprises are controlled by SASAC(State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council), but why the controller of Shaxian Delicacies is an administrative department in charge of transportation?
As mentioned earlier, Shaxian means Sha County. This is a County in Fujian Province, China. Its area is about 1/10 of that of Beijing, and its resident population is about 233000.
Unlike cities such as Guangzhou and Chengdu, which are known for their cuisine, Sha County`s history is relatively short. The region’s first association with food culture, recorded as far back in time, was in 1941.
In 1937, Japan launched a war of aggression against China, and many coastal cities in southeastern China were occupied. Chinese government agencies, schools and businessmen in these cities began to relocate to inland cities.
Sha County became a refuge for many departments of Fujian provincial government at that time. Fujian Nursing School, Fujian Medical College, Fujian Science Center, Fujian Stadium, Fujian Library and other institutions migrated from Xiamen and Fuzhou to Sha County.
In order to cope with the sudden increase in residents, the local catering industry ushered in a vigorous development.
In 1957, Yingtan-Xiamen Railway, the first railway in Fujian Province, was opened to traffic, and Sha County Staion was an important station of it. At that time, China did not allow the private economy yet. In order to meet the needs of passengers, Sha County’s state-owned canteen set up stores at the railway station, which might be why Shaxian Delicacies is now held by Sha County Transportation Bureau.
Shaxian Delicacies’ general menu was formed until 1990. This year, Bianrou, steamed dumplings, fish balls and noodles have become competitions in the County Food and Beverage Association competition.
A regional financial crisis occurred in the following years, which prompted Shaxian Delicacies to eventually become a chain brand.
During that time, because China had just opened up its market economy, many laws related to economy and finance did not exist. This leads to the popularity of private usury in Sha County. As several of its giant creditors fled, the region plunged into a regional financial crisis in 1991.
In order to make a living, many bankrupt people go to Fuzhou and Xiamen to look for jobs. Opening a restaurant was an easy choice at that time because in fact all you need was a pot and a flowing stove.
Because of this historical origin, Shaxian Delicacies is still regarded as a paradise for “debt evaders”. In Baidu Tieba’s Debt Dodgers Section (戒赌吧), many people will broadcast their experiences of dine and dash at Shaxian Delicacies. The reason is that Shaxian Delicacies is delicious and cheap, operators are also richer than similar restaurant owners, which means debt evaders succeed in escaping without checkout after meal will not cause too much harm to the boss.
By 1996, the number of Sha County residents operating in the catering industry outside Sha County had exceeded 10, 000, which attracted the attention of the Sha County government. In 1997, the, Sha County government registered the green trademark similar to Pac-Man, which marked the official birth of the chain brand Shaxian Delicacies at this time.
In the following years, the company entity of Shaxian Delicacies was established and began to invite people from Shaxian County who had previously left their hometown to join the organization. Shaxian Delicacies began 20 years of rapid development.
Why is Shaxian Delicacies successful?
Why is Shaxian Delicacies more successful than other Chinese fast food chains? The reasons behind this are more complicated.
There is an old Chinese saying about how to achieve success: “Right time, right place, and right person.” (天时地利人和)
The success of Shaxian Delicacies can be summed up in these three elements.
First of all, the right time.
As mentioned above, the, Shaxian Delicacies brand was established around 1996. But before the brand was founded, residents of Sha County had already left their hometown to run catering enterprises in other regions.
During that period, the economy developed most rapidly since the founding of the people’s Republic of China. Farmers left the land and went to the city to become workers or clerks. Employees of state-owned enterprises left their original position and cities to operate their own business in coastal areas.
What did the huge population mobility bring? A huge demand for the catering industry, especially cheap food.
Another feature of Shaxian Delicacies compared with delicacy is its cheapness. According to the China Food Service Yearbook, one of the slogans of Shaxian Delicacies in 1997 was “start selling for 1 yuan and eat for 3 yuan”. As a comparison, the average monthly wage of Chinese workers in that year was 539 yuan. This meaned that eating at Shaxian Delicacies cost almost as much as cooking for consumers themselves.
With the development of economy, the opportunity of low-cost fast food no longer exists. As a matter of fact, there are also some successful catering chains after that, but their prices are much higher.
Second, the right place.
Although Sha County food is not known for its cuisine in history, the cuisine style and ingredients of its region are still important factors contributing to the success of Shaxian Delicacies.
In China, local specialties are a double-edged sword. There are many local food chains featuring a certain region in China, but these cuisines are so distinctive that they cannot actually become the daily food and beverage for all people.
For example, Donkey HamBurger (huoshao) is a local feature of Baoding, and Donkey HamBurger is also a chain store in China. It’s delicious, but it’s impossible for people to eat Donkey HamBurger at noon every day.
Due to two historical developments (the coastal population retreated to the area to avoid war and the establishment of the first regional railway), the regional specialty of the region is actually “no specialties”. As introduced before, its menu includes noodles and dumplings that northern Chinese like to eat, as well as rice noodles and soup loved by southern Chinese.
Although it is not a high-end delicacy, it can satisfy consumers in almost all parts of China through a combination of different ingredients. This is exactly the menu that fast food should provide to people.
The third, the right person.
In China, the failure of many restaurant chains is due to management defects. Contrary to stereotypes, catering chains with modern management systems are more likely to fail.
Because China’s economy has developed rapidly over the past four decades, the parody and bureaucracy of Western business management systems will only make a Chinese company lag behind its competitors rather than succeed.
Shaxian County is a different model. Although it has the participation of the government, all operators regard it as their own property. In other words, this is a franchised state-owned enterprise that is rare even in China.
This gives it both the strategic ability to co-ordinate the overall situation and the ability to inspire every boss to work hard.
Most of the bosses of Shaxian Delicacies are from Sha County. The growth of the whole Shaxian Delicacies group has brought benefits to everyone from this County, while the growth of each Shaxian Delicacies store has contributed to the whole.
This has nothing to do with ideology, but is similar to the popularity of full shareholding in China’s private economy many years later.
Haidilao, another private hot pot chain in China, has inspired employees with a similar profit-sharing plan (non-full shareholding).
In Haidilao, even waiters can share the profits of the whole group. This makes them happy to find problems in the workflow and share their innovative solutions with the company. This will continue to promote the innovation and progress of the whole group.
It’s just that Shaxian started 20 years earlier than Haidilao.
To sum up, the success of Shaxian Delicacies is almost certain. However, this does not mean that Shaxian Delicacies is unchallenged.
Similar to Shaxian Delicacies, there are many restaurant chain brands in China that focus on industry associations from a certain region, such as Chengdu snacks, Malan ramen noodles and braised chicken rice.
More importantly, with the development of economy and food delivery, such restaurants with low price and moderate quality are facing challenges.
If people only need to fill their stomachs at lunchtime, there are more choices on food delivery apps, whether it’s cheap or expensive. In the current market, brick-and-mortar restaurants must provide consumers with more value in order to attract them to leave the air-conditioned room to eat at noon on weekdays.
Over the past few years, Shaxian Delicacies has tried to open flagship stores with Instagram Style decorations and higher-end menus. They have also opened light food restaurants in an attempt to replicate their success in the field of healthy lunches. But overseas, the Shaxian Delicacies you see is still the classic store described in this article.
As the largest catering chain in China, it has enough capital and time to try and innovate. Its future development is also worth looking forward to.