CINCINNATI -- A pop-up eatery will open for business today in the CUF area, just in time for final exam week at the University of Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Lunch Box will offer Chinese barbecue lunches packed in boxes for carry-out this Monday through Friday. The only stipulation is diners must pre-order boxes on the eatery’s bilingual website, which displays the menu and ordering instructions in both English and Chinese.
“'Xnxnnàtí Biàn Dang' means ‘Cincinnati lunch box’,” said co-owner Michael Kou, referring to the Chinese name on the website.
Kou, who leads the business and marketing aspects of the operation, said that in Chinese culture, boxed meals are a common street food: “Somebody might say, ‘Do you want to get a bian dang (boxed lunch)?’”
Mapi De Veyra, a longtime Asian Food Fest vendor and former chef at Quan Hapa, is co-owner in the venture. De Veyra, who is part Chinese, Portuguese and mostly Filipino, recently operated Mapi’s Barbequehan, a Filipino barbecue stand at Findlay Market.
“This is my favorite food growing up,” he said, referring to the barbecue going into the boxed lunches.
De Veyra, who leads the culinary side of the business, said that Asian barbecue is distinctly different from its American counterpart.
“The hardest thing when you say barbecue in the United States is, people think it’s smoked,” he said. “Asian barbecue is more about the marinade.”
The menu will vary slightly day to day but diners can expect classics such as Char Siu (barbecue pork), roasted pork belly and roast duck, complemented with rice and a side of vegetables. As a member of Findlay Kitchen, De Veyra will prepare the food there.
Cincinnati Lunch Box also will carry Chinese pastries and bread such as pineapple buns, egg custard tarts and red bean buns from Sharonville-based Bread House Bakery. Joe Chen, the owner and head baker, makes the baked goods from scratch daily.
On the designated days, boxed lunches can be picked up between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Forum Apartments and Health Club, a location that Kou noticed has high student traffic.
“They can pick their food up on the way to school or from school,” Kou said. “We’re not doing transactions on-site. You can only order (and pay) online.”
For this first run, Kou is looking to serve the UC community and hopes the Chinese barbecue will appeal to what is probably his most discerning customer base: Chinese students. Kou served as chairman of the board of the Greater Cincinnati Chinese Chamber of Commerce in 2015 and continues to be an active member. While the chamber largely focuses on business, it also engages with UC students through mentorship and networking programs.
“That’s how I know there’s a market there,” Kou said.
Following the university’s lead, Kou and De Veyra will take a break over the holidays to regroup. If things go well this week, they plan to return with more pop-up offerings such as congee and hot soy milk – just in time for winter.
Kou said that as diverse as the food offerings are in Clifton and surrounding areas, there is no Chinese barbecue shop or bakery.
“I don’t want to keep saying, ‘Hey, we need a barbecue place’ and then not do anything,” Kou said. “If this works out, I would love to have a permanent Chinese barbecue and bakery in Clifton.”
Cincinnati Lunch Box
Carry-out only; must order online: www.ucbiandang.com
Lunch pickup: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday
Pickup location: The Forum Apartments and Health Club, Office Suite H; 717 Martin Luther King Drive. West Cincinnati, Ohio 45220
Prices: $6.99-$9.99. (Sides and pastries cost extra.)
Information: Follow on Facebook or sign up for newsletters on its website for other pop-up announcements.
Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO Digital. She is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.