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Experts say Asian cuisine expanding in growing Arizona restaurant market

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Several new Asian restaurants have opened in Arizona this year: Squid Ink Sushi in Scottsdale. Chennai Fusion Grill in Chandler. Zang Asian Bistro in Glendale.

And those are just a sampling.

Asian cuisine has become one of the most popular types of food in the world, according to data from market research firm Euromonitor.

Combine the cuisine’s popularity with the fact that Arizonans love to eat out, and it’s no surprise this market segment has grown here.

“Baby Boomers did not grow up asking their parents to go out for sushi or ramen, but for Generation Y, this is normal,” said Brad Bloom, vice president of sales and marketing at CHD Expert, a food-service database and analytics firm.

Experts said globalization and the ability to travel more easily has made the world smaller and changed people’s demand for different types of food.

The Chinese Restaurant Association of Arizona estimated that of the 8,000 restaurants in the state, 1,000 are Asian.

Although officials with the Chinese association and the Arizona Restaurant Association agree that more Asian restaurants have opened in the state, they don’t keep data specific to this market.

Chianne Hewer, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Restaurant Association, said the state has seen particular growth in Asian fusion restaurants, like Sumo Maya in Scottsdale, which serves Mexican-Asian fusion cuisine.

The “foodie” culture’s strong movement has caused Asian restaurateurs to push the “boundaries experimenting with fusion cuisine and unique appealing menus that have traditionally not been around,” Bloom said.

But there’s one type of Asian restaurant that isn’t as prevalent here: a chain.

A study conducted by CHD Expert found that of the more than 64,000 Asian restaurants in the country, chains operate only 6 percent of them.

Mom-and-pop eateries also dominate the Asian market in Arizona, but some local experts said they expect that to change.

“(Chains) are absolutely the way food is going,” said Lori Hashimoto, chef and owner of the family-owned Hana Japanese Eatery in Phoenix.

Even if more chains pop up in Arizona, Hashimoto said she believes there is room for both types of establishments.

“I don’t think of (chains) as competition because they get their own following,” she said.

Gary Ong, president of the Chinese Restaurant Association of Arizona, agreed that the market could hold more Asian chain restaurants: “Pei Wei, P.F. Chang’s and Panda Express have all done well here.”

Of the Top 5 national Asian cuisine chains with the most units, the Scottsdale based P.F. Chang’s is the only full-service chain, according to the study. The other chains – Panda Express, Noodles and Company, Pei Wei Asian Diner and The Flame Broiler – are fast-casual operations.

According to Eurometer, half of all sales at Asian fast-food restaurants came from chains last year.