The Runaway Plate

The Runaway Plate owner Lina Wang said staff members come in early to prepare fresh food.

The Runaway Plate owner Lina Wang said staff members come in early to prepare fresh food.

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.

By Beth Marshall

Born and raised in Montgomery County, Beth Marshall graduated from The University of Texas at San Antonio in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in communication and a minor in business. Originally hired as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in 2016, she became editor of the Sugar Land/Missouri City edition in October 2017.


A Harris County administrative judge has ordered county officials to "wholly disregard" an order from Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo that involved releasing certain nonviolent inmates from the Harris County Jail. (Courtesy Brian Jackson/Adobe Stock)
Judge orders halt to Harris County inmate release

The plan to release certain nonviolent inmates was announced earlier this week to try to prevent a coronavirus outbreak at the Harris County Jail.

(Kaitlin Schmidt/Community Impact Newspaper)
ROUNDUP: 5 recent coronavirus stories from the North Houston area readers should know

Catch up on some of the latest coronavirus updates for the North Houston area below.

Houston Airport System officials expect March passenger data to be significantly lower than in other months. Foot traffic at IAH was light March 24. (Emily Heineman/Community Impact Newspaper)
TSA limits checkpoints at George Bush Intercontinental Airport; Houston Airport System expects significant decline in March passengers

With low passenger travel amid the coronavirus pandemic, Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at George Bush Intercontinental Airport have been consolidated to make better use of resources and personnel, Houston Airport System officials said.

The Montgomery County Veterans Memorial put up signs saying "Hope is not cancelled," according to Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough. (Andy Li/Community Impact Newspaper)
The Woodlands Township board, Montgomery County officials discuss local coronavirus updates

Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough shared information on the county's preparedness and testing capabilities during the meeting.

Volunteers unload food donations for the Montgomery County Food Bank. (Courtesy Drive West Communications)
ExxonMobil makes $250,000 donation to local food banks

The energy company said the Houston Food Bank will receive $200,000, including $50,000 in gasoline gift cards. The Montgomery County Food Bank will also receive $50,000.

All nonessential businesses throughout the county, including in downtown Conroe, have been closed. (Andy Li/Community Impact Newspaper)
PHOTOS: Scenes of Montgomery County as residents deal with stay-at-home order

The ongoing coronavirus outbreak and Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough's stay-at-home order, effective March 27 through April 30, have replaced residents on the streets of one of the fastest growing areas in the country with silence.

The Woodlands Township is accepting a variety of medical protective gear through its "Help Our Heroes" campaign. (Courtesy Fotolia)
The Woodlands Township launches medical supply donation campagin

Medical protective gear will be collected at The Woodlands Central Fire Station on Mondays and Thursdays.

The Woodlands Township board of directors met via video conference for a special meeting April 2. (Screenshot via The Woodlands Township)
The Woodlands Township considers community coronavirus response, expected budget shortfalls

The township also created a budgeting task force to examine options for expected funding gaps caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lone Star College is providing tips for parents and students adapting to online learning. (Andrew Christman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Lone Star College offers online learning tips for parents

Lone Star College is providing tips for parents and students adapting to online learning.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo provided updates on the county's "Stay Home-Work Safe" order at a March 30 press conference. (Screenshot via Harris County)
VIDEO: Texas Tribune interviews Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo about the coronavirus outbreak’s impact in Houston

The Texas Tribune demographics reporter Alexa Ura interviewed Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on April 3.

The Texas Torque team is planning to produce hundreds of face shields for medical personnel. (Courtesy Scott Rippetoe)
Conroe ISD robotics team joins national effort to produce medical protective gear

The Woodlands-based Texas Torque is working to provide hundreds of face shields to health care providers.

The festival has been postponed until October, with current tickets still being honored. (Photo by The Woodlands Arts Council)
The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival postponed to October

The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival has been postponed to October due to coronavirus mandates.