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Marketing Intelligence and the Story of General Tso

When we think of the perfect recipe for success, we can take a lot from the Chinese. A prime example can be found in the creation of General Tso Chicken, one of the most popular dishes in the U.S. If you go to China, most people won’t know what you’re talking about when you ask them about the dish. This is the genius of the Chinese as they branched out internationally back in the day.

general tso

It was the late 1850’s in California when the Cantonese began appearing in America. They came for the gold rush and it was not a warm welcome they received. There was a law passed in fact that it was illegal to press charges against an American that beat on someone from China. They didn’t get job opportunities so they used their innovation to create their own success. Chinese laundry services and restaurants were opened so they could feed their families and survive. Quickly the Chinese realized if they adjusted their food to make them more “American”, the popular Chinese-American was born. The menu was exotic enough to attract the American people and familiar enough that they ate it and liked it. The Chinese often have association in any given city where they assign what business you can have and where. This allows for success for establishing businesses and maintains success of long standing businesses. The organization the Chinese have allows for everyone to flourish and they maintain trust within.

The Chinese began to spread through even the smallest pockets of America to escape persecution on the West Coast but also to find employment that didn’t compete with their fellow countryman. These Chinese even went as far as to think of non-threatening names so as not to ward off potential American customers. In many of these small towns, the Chinese family that ran the restaurant were the only Chinese in the area. Yet, their restaurants thrived. This is the power of their ability to create a menu that matches the taste of people that had never eaten anything other than American cuisine. In Missouri, people particularly like comfort food so a Chinese cook created cashew chicken. He tooks the bones out of the chicken and deep fried it with cashews. This has never been eaten by any Chinese person in China, it’s strictly American and celebrated as being so.

Throughout time, the Chinese have made their food as part of an American staple. Jewish people that migrated to the Americas would go out for Chinese in an effort to be more “American.” Even Americans have special moments in their childhood where they went out for a family dinner to a Chinese restaurant.

The Chinese were excellent at gaining the trust and admiration of Americans with their cuisine. They found a way to flourish and make money to support their families by thinking out of the box. When all of what they worked for was taken away during times of war, the Chinese didn’t give up. There was a lull due to Americans being anti-communist but when General Mao invited Nixon to a meeting, things changed. On everyone’s television, they watched as Nixon enjoyed authentic Chinese food. Line ups began to form at every Chinese restaurant in America. At this point, the Chinese started to recreate their menus and create cuisine that was more distinct. Fine Chinese Szechuan, Fujian and Hunan food was introduced to the public.

In 1972, General Tso chicken was introduced in New York City and officially has become the most popular Chinese dish out there. Sweet, spicy and deep fried perfection. A perfect American dish that nobody living in China has enjoyed. The original dish was created in Taiwan but it wasn’t introduced by restauranteurs that knew of it until it was the right time. Another thing about business which we all know is being there at the right place, right time. If you haven’t figured out how brilliant and innovative the Chinese are, here’s a mind blowing figure; there are 50,000 Chinese restaurants in the US. Let’s put that in perspective, there are 35,000 McDonald’s worldwide. It’s not often you see a Chinese restaurant go out of business either. Maybe not every business decision an individual Chinese person makes is great. The chef who invented cashew chicken was offered by McDonalds to buy their recipe and he said “no.” A year later, they came out with the Chicken Mc Nugget.