By Riley Corboy
By now, we all know that orange chicken isn’t real Chinese food. Although some may want to cling to their Americanized-versions of these foods forever, experiencing authentic cultural cuisine is an important part of expanding both your palette and your worldview. (Honestly, once you taste the real thing you won’t ever want to go back). The problem then becomes, where do you begin? With seemingly endless food choices (and even more options for food delivery), how do you ensure the best experience possible?
Enter Chowbus. This dish-centric Chicago startup is revolutionizing access to authentic Asian food for thousands of customers every day. Founded by Linxen Wen and Suyu Zhang, Chowbus is a food delivery service app specializing in authentic Asian cuisine.
Unlike competing services, Chowbus takes food service to a whole new level. “While I was a student, I tried ordering food service delivery. However, I found out I needed to pay $8 including delivery fee and tips when my meal was just $15,” says founder Linxen Wen, “Also there was no picture, no rating, and no review on each meal. As a consequence, I missed out on so many amazing dishes and was likely to end up with bad choices.”
For lunch shuttles, the process is as easy as pressing a few buttons. Chowbus offers 10-15 different curated bento boxes that come with the main dish, side of veggies, rice, and usually some other fun extra. You place your order before 11 am (even as early as the night before if you’re a planner) and choose the nearest curbside location to you. There is usually a stop every few blocks so you won’t be walking far. Lunch prices range from $8-$11 (which is still on the low-end for their portion sizes) but the key is that delivery will only ever cost $1. That’s a mere handful of pennies for delicious, hot food delivered straight into your hands.
This may seem like an obvious goldmine, but Chowbus faced its share of hurdles in their early years. Unlike American-born entrepreneurs, Wen had to learn American laws, culture, and everything in between from the ground up. Then there was the challenge of recruiting restaurants, many of whom were not interested in working for (at the time) an unproven college kid when alternatives like Grubhub were so available. “I got rejected from the first ten restaurants I walked into,” Wen tells us, “Now, new restaurants reach out to us for partnerships.”
Despite the initial obstacles, people everywhere are getting hooked on this app. With zero marketing budget, Chowbus has relied on its fiercely loyal customers to spread the word about their services–and spread the word they have! Since 2016, business has more than quadrupled each year and continues to accelerate at a breakneck pace. Additionally, they just completed their seed round fundraising with over $1 million and have expanded their delivery service to Boston.
If your taste buds are tantalized enough, you can download Chowbus from the app store or learn more about their service from their website. When you do end up placing your first order, keep an eye out for fan favorites such as the Taco Bao, BBQ Duck Bento, and Shanghai Soup Dumplings!