Lina Wang’s idea to open The Runaway Plate came to her after she grew weary of sitting in too many drive-thru lines after 12-hour workdays.
The concept behind the fast-casual restaurant on the Grand Parkway near Rayford Road offers busy customers a home-cooked meal for the whole family without the chore of actually going home to cook.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it just be great if there was a restaurant out there that really catered to people who worked long hours [and] wanted something balanced?’” Wang said. “Just real food—something you would cook for yourself on the weekend if you had time, and you’d feel good about it the next day.”
The Runaway Plate opened last September, and Wang said there are regular customers who stop by four or five times each week.
“They truly use [the restaurant] as a supplement for dinner,” she said. “We’re glad we can do that for them.”
Although The Runaway Plate has a dining room, Wang said about 80 percent of traffic comes through the drive-thru.
“We make everything from scratch,” she said. “Our chefs come in three hours before we open to start that process. Throughout the day, they’re making small batches so that it’s always fresh food going out the door.”
Wang said she makes sure the menu offers varied items ranging from certified Angus steak to salmon and shrimp.
“Of course, the basics are on there as well, like pork chops [and] chicken dishes to kind of round out what you would need if you needed to come every day,” she said.
Seasonal vegetables and herbs are incorporated into each dish throughout the year, Wang said. Chicken cacciatore is served in the winter because it calls for fresh rosemary. Similarly, a roasted tomato and goat cheese aioli dish is served in the summertime when fresh tomatoes and basil are in season.
“The whole idea is you pick an entree, and you get two sides included,” Wang said. “Some days you can go ultra healthy and do a double salad if you want. Other days you can feel better about life with mashed potatoes and mac-and-cheese.”
Before taking on this business venture, Wang said she worked at different restaurants and bakeries because she has always loved baking.
“I never thought I’d be able to actually own a restaurant,” she said. “I wanted to go to culinary school, but that just didn’t pan out. My parents wanted me to go to university and get a business degree.”
Wang’s combined business savvy and passion for cooking set the wheels in motion for The Runaway Plate, she said.
“The aha moment was when I was working in these other restaurants, and I ended up making suggestions on processes in their kitchen that would help them save tens of thousands of dollars,” she said. “I think between all the restaurants, I was able to save about $150,000 because I just knew how to do shortcuts. I was already well-versed in the kitchen, and a lot of the owners didn’t know, they just didn’t have that background.”
Making The Runaway Plate a successful reality took about four years, according to Wang.
“It was really challenging to get this concept started,” she said. “No. 1, we couldn’t get financing through a bank. All of them wanted to see a similar concept that has worked somewhere in the United States, and there hadn’t been. We are a completely new concept, so [banks] wouldn’t fund it.”
In the end, Wang and her husband used their own money to buy a location after multiple landlords turned them down because they did not want to take the risk on the restaurant’s concept.
“We felt this is what people want, they just don’t maybe know it, and it’s so new that it will just take time for them to adjust from going to thinking, ‘I’m going to hit Jack in the Box [or] I’m going to hit McDonald’s,’ to ‘Hey, I can get a real dinner,’” she said.
Wang said people in the area have been supportive of The Runaway Plate because it is locally owned.
“We’ve been approached a couple of times already by people who want to open up a second location, but right now we’re just trying to make sure we’re putting out great food and making happy customers,” she said.