Choosing the right type of restaurant for a suburban setting requires understanding the community’s preferences, assessing competition, embracing local ingredients, creating a welcoming atmosphere, and engaging with the community. For Jonathan Krieger those instincts are his gift.
Once again, the Garden State entrepreneur Krieger has built a team at Fat Choy that has created a restaurant that is quickly becoming a beloved gathering place for the entire Englewood, NJ dining community. Krieger has tabbed chef Justin Lee to forge a simple, natural, and unmanipulated menu at the Bergen County eatery.
Lee’s offerings feature an all-vegan, all-Kosher menu and Chinese-leaning restaurant fare. The inspiration for the new eatery comes from Fat Choy’s run in Manhattan.
Fat Choy originally opened its doors in 2020 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and received countless positive reviews from its early days. But after two years, Lee and his wife, Katie, closed the restaurant’s doors in December 2022. The menu was inexpensive, with most dishes costing less than $10, but rising costs and other pandemic-related pressures couldn’t keep them in business.
Lee had intended to step away from the kitchen after Fat Choy/Manhattan closed, but he was heavily involved in the reopening of Virginia’s, an American bistro in the East Village. His consulting work kept him in the industry, and eventually brought forth an opportunity to reopen Fat Choy with entrepreneur Jonathan Krieger.
Kreiger is a co-founder of the Australian coffee brand Bluestone Lane, the founder of The Spring café in Tenafly, and was the CEO of Taco Dumbo, a small chain in New York. He is also the President of the Tenafly Chamber of Commerce.
“I took this restaurant as an opportunistic situation,” said Krieger, who initially planned for the new restaurant to be more of a fast-food-style joint. “Entrepreneurs like me have an endless appetite to build, we want to see more and create more community.” The fast-food aspect did not work as planned, Lee said, as it wasn’t logistically sound, so the idea then shifted and became simple: create an all-inclusive
“We decided to make it vegan, make it acceptable, and make it delicious. It should be just an afterthought that it’s vegan,” Lee, who isn’t vegan himself, said. “You don’t have to know that you’re helping out.”
In terms of vegan and plant-based food, Lee calls the two terms synonymous: Fat Choy is simply for people that like vegetables over animals. “Plant-based often has a fake meat connotation,” he said. “We keep trying to chase a thing that doesn’t exist. We have a burger, but we know it’s not a beef burger. We’re not trying to catch up to that.”
The menu features dishes from Lee’s childhood as a Chinese American growing up in Virginia and spending weekends in Chinatown. “We’re building off of memories and nostalgia,” he said. From the Mushroom Sloppy, which features mushroom ragu and Chinese slaw, to the tofu-scrambled Fried Rice, each dish features vegetables and ancient Chinese proteins. For dessert, there’s Bananas Foster Rangoon, a sweet and spiced play on the crab Rangoon.
With a clearly innovative menu, Lee works to create dishes you won’t see at every Chinese restaurant. “A lot of Chinese food is ubiquitous,” he says, “You have General Tso’s Chicken, we have General Lee’s Cauliflower.” This inventive shift not only excites taste buds, but it introduces guests to new ingredients, vegetables, and flavors they may not always experience at a typical Chinese restaurant.
In addition to being kosher and vegan, Fat Choy is also non-alcoholic. One mocktail on the menu is the Nojito, which features Moroccan mint and tangy lime, minus the liquor. “I’m not sure I’ve seen as intentional of a non-alcoholic drink menu as what we have,” says Krieger.
The price of a meal at Fat Choy is another selling point, and it’s one that the duo has tried to maintain since its grand re-opening. The Fat Choy concept is perfectly positioned for potential franchise or corporate store growth with food costs set at 16.5%, and the most expensive entrée on the menu is just 21 dollars.
“It enables us to consistently produce what some would call unbelievably cheap relative to portions and quality, and we call value,” Lee continued.
These prices add to the inclusivity of the place: it’s family friendly and budget friendly. “What about for everybody who’s on this bandwagon of wanting to be healthier but not wanting to get gouged? That’s the bullseye for this concept,” added Krieger. Fat Choy has built out a kitchen that can easily handle both in-house restaurant dining and the ebb and flow of high demand takeout and delivery.
Healthy menu offerings are only possible with chefs who care about the source of their ingredients. Lee, who has a degree in Dairy Science and Agricultural Economics from Virginia Tech, has cooked in Manhattan for his entire career. He worked with and developed relationships with local farmers for years, and now is familiarizing himself with those in New Jersey. “There’s always delicious Jersey produce,” he says, optimistic about adding more locally sourced products to his menu.
Inclusivity and simplicity are at the core of the menu. With a wide range of innovative, memorable dishes, there’s room the Krieger/Lee led Fat Choy team are reinventing how Northern Jersey looks at health(ier) dining.