Xi’an Famous Foods lives up to its name. The fast-food chain, known for its spicy plates of biang biang noodles served with cumin-inflected lamb, is a New York mainstay. It now has 13 locations across the city, but Anthony Bourdain championed CEO Jason Wang’s family restaurant long before its expansion: He visited the original location, a 200-square-foot food stall in a mall in Flushing, Queens, and featured it on an episode of No Reservations in 2009. Wang, whose father, David Shi, opened the stall in 2005, credits the appearance on the show with the restaurant’s subsequent boom in popularity. He spoke with Explore Parts Unknown’s Tafi Mukunyadzi about Bourdain’s support for his business and the fundraiser he launched in honor of his friend.
Tafi Mukunyadzi: When did you first meet Tony?
Jason Wang: I met Tony in person back in 2011 at our original location. I remember noticing how tall he was and that he was rather quiet and kept a low profile. Everything he said was on point. No fluff.
Mukunyadzi: What are your fondest memories of him?
Wang: I was a guest at one of his live shows in Brooklyn. He was onstage, talking about various things related to food and culture and was expressing his disdain toward hyper-commercialized food media and certain food celebrities that he just did not respect. It didn’t exactly project a positive spirit, but it was pretty hilarious and undeniably true. Food media was getting ridiculously commercialized and glamorized to a laughable degree, as Tony would say.
Mukunyadzi: How did Tony impact your life and your business?
Wang: Xi’an Famous Foods is a big part of my life, and I’ve put all of my post-college years into the company. So naturally, Tony’s continued support of our family-owned business, whether through features on video segments or considering us to be one of the first vendors of the Bourdain Market, meant a lot to me because it positively affected our business. With his support, we were able to grow. My family was able to achieve the American dream.
Mukunyadzi: After Tony’s death, Xi’an Famous Foods launched a suicide prevention fundraiser. What motivated you to do that?
Wang: I was quite shocked when I heard of Tony’s passing. I had an uncle who committed suicide at a young age. I never met him, but I know his passing was a very painful thing for his parents.
While we cannot change the past, we can do something for the future in Tony’s name, and we felt Xi’an Famous Foods should pay tribute. The day his death was announced, we pledged to contribute that day’s net sales to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We got the word out and ended up raising a little over $73,000.
Mukunyadzi: Is there anything about Tony you think the public should know and doesn’t?
Wang: I think the public already knows that Tony was quite real and was not afraid to share with us all his unfiltered thoughts about food and politics beyond food.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.