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In Philadelphia, there are more than a thousand restaurants in Center City alone. This density of eateries makes it tough for a business to stand out.
But Chubby Cattle, a new Chinese fusion restaurant in Chinatown, is making waves in the Asian food scene in Philly. The restaurant, on North 10th Street near Race, opened last November and is revolutionizing hot pot, a traditional style of Chinese dining.
Hot pot originated in Mongolia more than a thousand years ago and is as much about the experience as it is the food. Hot pot is traditionally a communal form of dining, where a group of diners sits around a pot of boiling broth that is used to cook raw ingredients such as vegetables, meat and seafood.
Chubby Cattle further stands out among other hot pot restaurant in Philadelphia. David Zhao, the restaurant’s co-founder and the founder of the conglomerate company NXT Group, wanted to make the hot pot style of eating more relevant to young American diners.
Zhao recognized that many Chinese restaurants, including those that serve hot pot, are known for having the same inexpensive foods and often use the same cheap ingredients.
“Chinese cuisine has always been like, ‘Let’s cut our costs, let’s keep our costs low,” Zhao said. “The truth is, Chinese cuisine can be a premium experience as well when we use the best ingredients, instead of going for the ‘all you can eat’ feel with low-quality ingredients.”
Chubby Cattle features many dishes using Wagyu beef, a beef imported from Japan that is known for its high fat content and marbled appearance. In addition to the top-notch ingredients, the fusion of different cultures also makes Zhao’s new restaurant unique.
Zhao said he wanted to transform traditional hot pot into a modern, personalized experience. Instead of an entire table cooking using one large hot pot, diners can have their own smaller hot pot where they can customize their broth and ingredients.
“We want to bring that individuality of the U.S. dining and the communal lifestyle of Asia together,” said Zhao. “So you can still bond and cook for each other. At the same time, you can have your own … individualized experience from sauces, to ingredients you put in, to soup bases.”
Chubby Cattle also integrates modern technology into its ordering and food delivery system. Diners order food using iPad mounted at their table. Raw ingredients are delivered directly to tables via a refrigerated conveyor belt that spans the length of the restaurant, while hot dishes are sent from the kitchen down a magnetic levitating “train.”
Aris Tang, a senior management information systems and marketing double major, originally connected with Zhao over Instagram and heard about the opportunity to invest in Chubby Cattle several months ago.
“Chubby Cattle is using the idea of American style dining, so they offer single pots for each member, which offers a lot of individuality, innovation, and privacy,” Tang said. “[It’s] the combination of different styles of cooking, like Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and a lot of other styles. It’s like a big fusion.”
Kate Chan, a student at Penn State Abington and self-proclaimed hot pot lover, said she’s tried almost every hot pot restaurant in Philly, but Chubby Cattle offers quality that others don’t.
“The ingredients are really fresh,” Chan said. “They have a really wide variety and the soup base is really good. It’s not made out of powder, which at most places it’s made out of powder and can have a strong acid taste.”
Chubby Cattle has a bar upstairs, called Chubby Cattle Lounge, that will open in the coming weeks. With locations in Las Vegas, Dallas, Denver and now Philadelphia, Chubby Cattle is changing the way diners enjoy hot pot across the country.
Chubby Cattle is all about enjoying the customized experience with friends and family, Zhao said.
“Hot pot experience is all about what you create and what you want to eat,” Zhao said. “So if you’re a vegetarian, you can have your vegetarian dishes. If you’re vegan, you can have that. We also have options for our seafood lovers, our meat lovers, and noodle fans.”