“Restaurants: Why do Asian restaurants in the U.S. frequently serve soda cans rather than fountain drinks?” That’s a question from someone on Quora. WHAT A GREAT OBSERVATION AND ALSO A GREAT QUESTION. Jonas M. Luster is a chef in Dallas, and here’s how he answered it:
Most small Chinese restaurants are supplied by one supplier with a rather tight grip onto the market in every city. Back in the 60s and 70s, when food supplies were controlled by a racket of mobbed up suppliers this was a necessity, most suppliers refused to deliver to Asian (and Mexican) restaurants or, in some cases, took those places for a ride including physical violence and arbitrary price hikes with attached “accidents” if the restaurant decided to change purveyors. In a sense the food supply world until the early 90s was a lot like prison – you joined one criminal organization to make sure the others left you alone.
Those suppliers have mostly gone away for non-ethnic restaurants. Some Italian, most Mexican, almost all small single-unit, casual, Asian (each with their own), and Indian restaurants still have them. Canned soda is a massive profit margin item for those suppliers and if you’re locked into a deal with them, legally or through the threat of bad things happening if you leave, you buy their soda.
ISN’T THAT FASCINATING? I was fascinated. Great answer, Jonas M. Luster. The greatness of the answer inspired me to read a lot of Luster’s other answers on Quora, and spoiler alertttt, they are all capital-G great, offering a really interesting INSIDER’S LOOK at restaurants. (I didn’t read them all because he has over 1500 answers on Quora and THAT IS A LOT. But I read the ones that had to do with restaurants and money, because: That is our theme.)
FOR EXAMPLE. In this one, he offers a short rant about why the food should always get to the table at the same time (“What makes a chef a chef isn’t their ability to cook. It’s their ability to manage high volumes of food”). In this one, he answers a question about why there are more male chefs than female chefs (“I said this before and I’ll say it again. It’s because women are smarter than us when it comes to a choice of profession”). In this one he gives a general idea about the income of a restaurant (“Food cost is on average 1/3 of the price of a meal, another third is labor and location”).
THERE ARE SO MANY MORE. Read all of his answers here.