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Company founded in Dubai to open first Wok Chi restaurant in Brandon

BRANDON — A Chinese restaurant is headed to Brandon, by way of India, the United Arab Emirates, Canada and Sarasota.

Wok Chi opens this spring in the Regency Square shopping center along Brandon Boulevard, entering the increasingly competitive field of restaurants focused on healthy food options served quickly and for less money than traditional sit-down restaurants.

Wok Chi is the ninth concept for Hot Brands International and its first venture into the U.S. market. Hot Brands has about 70 quick-service and casual-dining restaurants in the Middle East and Mumbai, India.

"We decided to launch Wok Chi because people are going toward fast-casual and are very cognizant of what they are putting into their bodies," said Kanak Bal, vice president of business development for Hot Brands International Inc. USA. "Chinese food gets a bad rap for being greasy and having a lot of MSG, but it doesn't have to be that way."

Wok Chi will serve traditional Chinese dishes prepared to order — without MSG. Each customer will receive hot green tea as a gesture of warmth and hospitality. Checks will average $12 per person.

Hot Brands was founded by India native Avinash Bal, who moved to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in the early 1990s and started the chain of Indian, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Thai restaurants. In 1997, he and his family emigrated to Toronto, where the company is now based.

Four years ago, Bal and his wife, Sonia, bought a vacation home in Sarasota and began splitting their time among Florida, Toronto and Dubai, where the chain has several quick-service restaurants at shopping malls.

"The more time they spent in Sarasota, the more they realized there is a lot of opportunity here for the kind of distinctive, ethnic food we are in," said their daughter, Kanak Bal, who moved to Sarasota full time in 2011.

The Wok Chi, at 2420 W Brandon Blvd. across from the Westfield Brandon mall, is the first of several planned for Florida, starting with the Tampa Bay and Sarasota markets. Depending on its performance, it could expand elsewhere in the United States, Canada and Middle East.

Kanak Bal said they chose a Chinese concept over their native Indian one because of its popularity.

"North Americans are so familiar with it. There's no learning curve," she said. "With Indian food, it's more of a steep learning curve."

The 3,300-square-foot restaurant went under construction in January and is expected to open in late April or May. It will have seating for up to 100 inside and 50 outside with an open kitchen for watching the chefs cook with woks.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.

Company founded in Dubai to open first Wok Chi restaurant in Brandon 02/19/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 11:00am]
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