What Inspires Asian Box CEO Frank Klein

Frank Klein, CEO and co-founder of Asian Box, says better Asian food just means better ingredients.
Frank Klein, CEO and co-founder of Asian Box, says better Asian food just means better ingredients.
Asian Box

My first job in foodservice was at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego as a banquet busboy. It gave me a good taste of the hard work it took in hospitality: the setup, the demand.

I had a successful career as a commercial real estate broker. With a little money saved, I started a marketing firm for hospitality businesses. I just caught the bug; it’s what I wanted to do. I’ve always liked to roll my sleeves up and get dirty. We later built the consulting arm of FK Restaurants & Hospitality and started working with bigger companies, Michelin-star chefs, corporations, and hotel groups.

I took over a project at a blues nightclub that was in bankruptcy, and it led me to open my first restaurant, First Crush Wine Bar, which then led to another restaurant, Fish & Farm. Through that, I met my Asian Box business partners. When fine dining hit the tank in the recession, we decided to create a hospitality-, chef-driven brand, and that’s how we started Asian Box. People wanted better-for-you food at a more reasonable price point. There were no new Asian restaurants that were positioning themselves as a lifestyle concept, using authentic ingredients but not being preachy about being healthy. Better Asian food just means better ingredients. Our food is made from scratch with our Vietnamese chef’s family recipes. We created Asian Box because we were selfish. We wanted healthy Asian food that was authentic.

We always wanted to be in the restaurant game; we never wanted to leave the game, but we just didn’t want to be in fine dining anymore. We love fine dining, but we didn’t want to play in it anymore. We wanted to play in the sandbox of fast casual/fine casual, so we took the ethos and the touch points that we had in fine dining and brought them to Asian Box.

We’re opening stores in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. We’ll stay on the West Coast for right now, but we do have some feelers out in New York and some other places. The goal is not growth for growth. The goal is growth that makes sense, and that’s why we’re at the stage we’re at.


What’s your favorite menu item at Asian Box?

I’m a huge meat eater and I’m a hunter, but I love the Garden Box—extra tofu, extra curry, all the toppers, a little crunch texture, and a little sriracha added to it.

What’s your favorite restaurant or type of food, excluding Asian Box?

I’m a real sucker for handcrafted, homemade pastas.

What are some of your interests outside of the business?

I’m a live music freak; I will see live music anywhere. My 10- and 12-year-old daughters are huge passions of mine.

Who has inspired you as a leader?

Danny Meyer, Richard Branson, Reid Hoffman (cofounder of LinkedIn).

What is the best piece of advice you think quick-service executive should hear?

You need to have a well-thought-out plan; you cannot wing it in this industry. If you’re going to create a brand, you also have to create a plan. Each and every item matters from day one. Everything you do, you’re accountable for.

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