By Alex Robinson
A Mongolian hot pot chain that has more than 600 locations worldwide opened a franchise in Flushing’s SkyView Center at the end of January.
Little Lamb, primarily known in China for its hot pot dishes and Mongolian barbecue, opened its first American location in Boston last year, but owner Hui Ming Chen said the Flushing franchise is considered the country’s flagship location.
“Flushing is a vibrant food community,” he said. “The U.S. flagship location at SkyView Center is an incredible opportunity for the brand and a key step for our U.S. expansion.”
The 136-seat restaurant offers customers the choice of a variety of broths in which to cook shredded meats and vegetables. Each table at the restaurant was installed with a built-in heater for the pots of broth to sit on.
Customers can also choose from a number of condiments at the restaurant’s sauce station.
The specialty of the restaurant is lamb, which Chen said he imports from Australia, since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not allow meat to be brought in from China.
Chefs from the chain’s headquarters traveled to Flushing to teach Chen’s staff how to properly cook and prepare the restaurant’s dishes.
Chen first moved to the United States from China 30 years ago and has owned a number of other Chinese restaurants across the Northeast, including a Wok ‘N’ Roll at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
He recently spent four years farming lamb in Mongolia, before settling in Flushing a year ago to open his new business. Chen moved into a penthouse in the SkyView Center upon his arrival so he could be close to the restaurant.
Chen said he figured Flushing would be a good place to open a Little Lamb because of its large Asian population.
“There are also a lot of tourists in New York, so this will be a great place to have a flagship,” he said.
There are already at least four hot pot restaurants in downtown Flushing, but business leaders are confident there is room for more.
Dian Yu, executive director of the Downtown Flushing Transit Hub Business Improvement District, said he thinks Little Lamb will do well.
“Asian people love to eat hot pot,” he said. “They’re definitely in the right location at the SkyView Center, especially with the three-hour free parking.”
Little Lamb will join a growing list of retailers and restaurants that call the SkyView Center home, including Target, Old Navy, Best Buy, Chuck E. Cheese, and a specialty Asian supermarket called Sky Foods. Nordstrom Rack recently announced it will open a store in the shopping mall in fall 2014.
Chen said he also hopes to one day open other Little Lamb locations in Brooklyn and Philadelphia.
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.