If you were expecting The Cheesecake Factory’s long-awaited fast casual to be a counter-service spinoff of the original, think again. On Friday (June 22), it revealed the name and direction of its upcoming concept, planned for the Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks this fall. Social Monk Kitchen, described by the brand to Eater as a “fast-casual Asian concept with a modern urban feel,” has been in development for about a year and a half.
In February, CEO and chairman of the board David Overton revealed to a call full of investors that The Cheesecake Factory was finalizing lease negotiations, more than a year after first hinting at the idea. And now the details are here, sans any actual cheesecake on the menu.
The Cheesecake Factory has some experience with Asian cuisine at full-service RockSugar Southeast Asian Kitchen (formerly known as Rock Sugar Pan Asian Kitchen), a two-unit concept founded in 2008. The brand’s chef, Mohan Ismail, is serving as culinary director for the still-developing menu at Social Monk Kitchen. Eater reports it will include dishes from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Indonesia, and India, featured across noodles, sandwiches, curries, salads, rice bowls, and house-made custards. Beer and wine are going to be available as well.
“We were really interested in creating a new concept, and thought Asian food would lend itself very well to a fast-casual setting,” Overton told Eater, who added that the brand doesn’t plan to pare down its flagship concept in fast-casual form anytime soon.
As for the name, Overton said they were looking for something “immediately intriguing,” playful, and approachable.
Guests will order at the counter and be served at their table, similar to other upscale fast casuals, like Panera Bread.
The Cheesecake Factory is no stranger to concept development. The 199-unit chain also operates 13 restaurants under the Grand Lux Café mark in addition to the RockSugar units in Chicago and LA. Orton told Eater the company expects to expand Social Monk Kitchen, but additional locations are not yet in development.
The brand returned its same-store sales to positive territory in the first quarter of fiscal 2018 at 2.1 percent growth. Total revenues were $590.7 million compared to $563.4 million in the prior-year period.
This came after a stretch of negative gains. The Cheesecake Factory’s comps dipped 0.9 percent in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2017 after falling 2.3 percent in Q3 and 0.5 percent in Q1. Before the slowdown, the brand had 29 consecutive quarters of positive gains.
Other casual chains have turned to the limited-service realm in recent years. Buffalo Wild Wings’ announced B-Dubs Express last summer, nearly 15 years after it shifted away from the counter-service format. Cracker Barrel unveiled Holler & Dash in 2016. Hooters debuted Hoots in Chicago last year, and Outback’s Express locations first hit the market in fiscal 2017, combining Outback and Carrabba’s offerings in delivery and takeout-only format.