What An Egg Roll Tells You About Business

Foodie Friday has arrived at last. This will be the final “new” food-themed screed of the year. Next week’s posts will be the annual review of the most-read posts of the year and the most read food post will be next Friday. While I hope you’ll continue to read next week, thank you for doing so today and throughout the year. Happy 2018!

While I like to think of myself as a fairly worldly person when it comes to knowing about food, I learned of a regional specialty here in the US just the other day. If you’re from the Detroit area you’re going to roll your eyes, but I just found out about Corned Beef Egg Rolls. I’ve lived in and around one of the world’s greatest multicultural food centers (New York City) my entire life until recently and had never encountered such a thing. It’s exactly what you’d think: a pile of thinly-sliced corned beef inside an egg roll wrapper that’s then rolled and fried. There is usually cheese involved (some gooey, white, mild stuff) and sometimes sour cabbage. Apparently, these rolls are quite popular in the Detroit area and they are spreading into adjacent areas. Coming soon to a deli near you?

So what does this have to do with business? It serves as a gentle reminder of a few of the things we’ve discussed this year. First, like many great dishes, this one was born as a sort of happy accident. Just as buffalo wings were the result of using up some food a bar has around, so too was this roll the result of a thrifty employee not wanting to toss out a bunch of corned beef scraps. Begin Vietnamese, he did something very typical in his culture – he made a roll out of them.

This reminds us that if you make content or products, there is no garbage can. Beyond content, if you have an idea that doesn’t quite do what you had planned, don’t toss it. Think about how what you have can serve another purpose. You miay have the right answer to another question you or your customers haven’t asked yet.

Second, it’s a blending of two iconic dishes from very different cultures – Jewish and/or Irish corned beef (see this post on THAT subject) and a Chinese/pan-Asian fried roll. This is a great reminder that the business world has become a very small place. There is a huge value in understanding how to communicate to and with different cultures, both with respect to language, values, and practices. If we isolate ourselves by failing to tailor our messages and products, we’re really going to be missing out. What are we doing in business today if not trying to blend a lot of cultures into a more coherent market?

Finally, I suspect that the Corned Beef Egg Roll will mirror what happened with the Coney Dog which also came from Detroit. There are places all over that serve a hot dog with thin chili and onions (The Roast Grill has been in business here in Raleigh for over 75 years serving just that) even if they’re not called Coneys or Coney Island Hot Dogs or Coney dogs. That product has grown way beyond its origins. Smart entrepreneurs spot trends, assess needs, find openings, and fill them. I did a little digging and while there are a few restaurants with “egg roll” in their name, there really doesn’t seem to be a chain that just serves egg rolls (and the restaurants named Egg Roll Express, despite the name, are regular Chinese restaurants with 2 egg rolls on the menu). Here is your first business idea for 2018 and a franchise opportunity for well beyond.

A few good reminder with which to end the year. I’m looking forward to stepping up to the fryer with you next year!

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