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Alex Hillman

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Excuse me, waiter, there’s a starfish in my Chinese food.

2 minute read
by Alex Hillman

A new food->coworking metaphor just showed up in my feed reader. New York Times food reporter Jennier 8. Lee gave the presentation above at Taste32008 conference, a partner program to the TED event.

Jennifer runs through some history of the Americanization of Chinese food, particularly dishes like General Tso’s Chicken and Chop Suey.

She then goes on to share her exploration of “regionalized” Chinese food, and how there are variations on every continent of the planet. The common thread across all of the continents is that while their versions of Chinese food are barely recognizable as Chinese food to the Chinese, they are recognizable from region to region!

Bear with me, I am going somewhere with this.

What’s fascinating about the non-chinese Chinese food is that there’s a great deal of consistancy across the world, from menus, to restaurant naming (how many China Gardens could there possibly be in Philadelphia?) to decor.

And yet, there’s no Chinese Restaurant HQ.

Unlike the restaurant chains, which invest years in branding and menu development to ensure careful consistency across their locations, the Chinese food industry seems to be a phenomenon of starfish organizing and design.

What does your region taste like?

You might imagine the smile on my face widen while watching this video, as near the end Jennifer mentions a derivative of the Egg Roll that, you guessed it, has a Philly cheese steak inside. Originating in the city of brotherly love, the cheese steak egg roll has traveled to other regions of the US, usually by hand of someone who moved from Philadelphia to another city.

What if Coworking is the Chinese food of the workplace?

Cooking dinner for yourself is great but it gets old, so periodically you order takeout.

You’ve got a favorite chinese food restaurant in your neighborhood. You may have tried a few other local spots, but this one has just the right flavor you like (and bonus, they deliver for free).

When you travel to another city, and have a craving for…you guessed it, Chinese food, you won’t have to ask too many people to find out their favorite spot, and have a pretty good chance of it feeling…and tasting…just like that spot at home.

They may not know your name when you walk in the door, but the familiarity is there all the same.

What other lessons can Coworking learn from the decentralized empire of Chinese food restaurants?

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Hey, thanks for reading!

Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.