Healthy Fast Food

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-By John Boley

Wokinabox is a chain of restaurants now operating across three states (Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland) and the ACT. Founder Alan Pan explains that the concept was inspired by the aromas and tastes of Asia and “built on the basis of our chefs cooking restaurant-quality Asian cuisine fresh to order with a takeaway or casual dine-in convenience.”

Like many Asian families in Australia, the Pans owned and operated a family restaurant business for several years, so the brothers Alan and Jonathon grew up in the industry. “This gave us the knowledge and determination to start up our own business at a young age, in an industry that was close to our hearts,” says Alan. “This upbringing has been the cornerstone to help shape where we are today.”

Before Wokinabox, Alan and Jonathon initially started their own independent brand of noodle bars in Western Australia. At its peak, that business boasted 14 stores. In early 2010, however, the brothers were approached by the owner of Wokinabox to take over the franchise. “We saw this as an ideal opportunity to capitalise on the skills we had previously learned,” Alan continues. “By continuing to work with some great partners in Wokinabox, and establishing new industry contacts, we were able to quickly increase turnover in the group within the first 12 months.” This was a particularly impressive feat, given the declining trend in the retail industry in the wake of the global financial crisis.

“What we have brought to this company is our tertiary education, as well as proven practical experiences in running and managing our 14 independently-owned businesses,” Alan explains. He and his brother also have degrees in business management, communications, and information technology. Between the two of them, they have over 30 years of experience in the food and hospitality industry – experience they are eager to leverage. “Both Jon and I offer a unique approach to our business by being front line directors,” Alan says. “We’re available to all our franchisees on a regular basis to offer support store by store, and to ensure a rewarding experience both financially and independently.”

The concept behind Wokinabox utilises the basic common quality of many Asian cuisines – essentially they employ fast-food (in the real sense) methods of cooking that not only enable food to be prepared very quickly – usually cooked in the eponymous wok, or large curved frying pan that cooks over very high heat – but also tends to seal in the flavour without overcooking the ingredients. These are usually a mixture of sliced meat or seafood and a variety of vegetables which are then combined with rice or noodles for a balanced meal. The menus differ slightly from state to state but are generally all based on a kind of ‘fusion’ of Thai, Malay, Chinese, Indonesian and Japanese ideas.

According to Alan, a lot of passion goes into making the brand successful – passion for both fresh and healthy food, and fast and friendly service. “Whenever we sell a Wokinabox meal, we are also selling a bit of ourselves,” says Alan. “We endeavour to instil this passion for quality and service through to our franchise group and into each meal. The customer must leave Wokinabox happy for having chosen Wokinabox over another food outlet. Their experience must surpass any expectations they might have when they enter our stores.” It is a high bar to set, but it is that passion for quality and customer service that has accounted for Wokinabox’s tremendous success.

“We have a clear brand position as ‘Fresh Asian’, which we stand for in everything we do, based on our distinctive strengths and characteristics. ‘Fresh’ because we use real ingredients like vegetables and meats, and cook for each customer right in front of them. ‘Asian’ because we offer a variety of authentic but exciting meals from five Asian food cultures – Thai, Malay, Indonesian, Chinese and Japanese.

“There are also a range of significant characteristics that we live and breathe.” These include being ‘genuine’ (focused on food), encouraging ‘exploration and discovery’ (inviting customers to experience Asian food cultures, sometimes in areas considered conservative and perhaps unadventurous in matters of food taste), ‘safe’ (hygienically prepared) and most importantly, ‘taste’.

An important part of Wokinabox’s business is its commitment to its workers. Because of this, the team has several principles in place to ensure that they are always fostering a solid employee-company relationship, and that their workplace is somewhere employees can be inspired to be the best they can be. These initiatives include working as a team, being accountable for one’s actions or inactions, maintaining clear communication between manager, franchisor and franchisee and above all, creating a corporate culture which ensures the continuous improvement of the franchise system. These qualities helped Wokinabox reach the finals of the Australia ethnic business awards for 2011.

Another Wokinabox commitment is the formation of partnerships with suppliers who care about the environment. “By working with these companies, we aim to promote better sustainability of our resources and responsible waste management.” To that end, Wokinabox has a number of initiatives in place. The company buys local and sells fresh, makes best use of water saving appliances, employs a disposal waste management system, and consistently utilises recyclable bags, boxes, chopsticks and napkins.

Wokinabox is also strongly committed to charity, and in that vein proudly sponsors the Starlight Children’s Foundation. “The foundation’s aim is to brighten the lives of seriously ill and hospitalised children and their families across Australia,” Alan says. Thirty cents of every children’s meal sold is donated to the foundation, and so far this year Wokinabox has managed to raise nearly $10,000. “We also sponsor all manner of other activities, from a community club to donating gift vouchers, competition draws and another local activity to help our community feel like one whole group.”

Alan says Wokinabox has a clear vision for the future of the company and its franchisees – there are a number of franchise opportunities in the various states and anyone interested should check the company’s website for availability. Wokinabox was one of many victims of the downturn in the economy, but its hardships were only temporary ones. “It seems now that we are on the rise from the depressed economic times, as consumers are able to spend money more freely,” he says. Particularly in the health food areas, costs can often be higher than consumers are able to pay for a healthy meal, and often, this results in poorer diets for consumers in the lower income brackets. “At Wokinabox we aim to provide our customers with a fast, fresh, healthy meal at a reasonable price,” Alan says. He adds: “One of our goals over the next twelve months is to develop strong brand awareness with our customers and ensure that Wokinabox is the first thing that comes to mind and the ‘first choice’ when they are looking for a healthy meal, as well as a top tier Asian cuisine.”

The present and continued success of Wokinabox is highly likely to place a company growth strategy on the agenda. Wokinabox is already prepared for this sharp increase in revenue with an equally sharp improvement strategy. “We have an aggressive growth plan in place to continue growing the number of stores before the third quarter of 2012. We also recently signed and sold master franchise rights to the UAE with its first store scheduled to open in Dubai at the end of 2012,” Alan explains. With this level of business awareness and forward thinking on behalf of Wokinabox’s leaders it is doubtless that they will achieve their intended growth targets as well as maintain their high level of consumer satisfaction for years to come.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

January 18, 2019, 3:35 AM AEDT