Dim Sum Garden owner Sally Song (left) stands for a portrait with Zhonghao Zhang, who works in business development for Chowbus, at the restaurant in Philadelphia's Chinatown. Chowbus is a food delivery service focusing on Asian restaurants.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Dim Sum Garden owner Sally Song (left) stands for a portrait with Zhonghao Zhang, who works in business development for Chowbus, at the restaurant in Philadelphia's Chinatown. Chowbus is a food delivery service focusing on Asian restaurants.

Creator of Chowbus app carves out a delivery niche

While a student at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago five years ago, Linxin Wen said he ran into a problem when he tried to order Chinese food for delivery. His restaurants of choice were not on any platform, he said, and he found delivery fees to be steep.

He decided to build his own platform.

In March 2016, he and a partner rolled out the Chowbus app. Unlike the majors like Grubhub, DoorDash, and Postmates, Chowbus focuses exclusively on Asian restaurants, just as Slice serves mom-and-pop pizzerias and Philadelphia-born Black and Mobile focuses on Black-owned businesses.

Owner Sally Song packages up a Chowbus order of shrimp dumplings at Dim Sum Garden in Philadelphia's Chinatown.
TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Owner Sally Song packages up a Chowbus order of shrimp dumplings at Dim Sum Garden in Philadelphia's Chinatown.

Chowbus, which entered Philadelphia in 2018 and now serves about 200 restaurants in the city, is also a one-stop shop. Delivery customers can order from more than one restaurant at a time. Want the rice noodle casserole from Chuan Lee and a pancake Tianjin-style from Xi’an Sizzling Woks? Chowbus can bundle deliveries from multiple restaurants, with no additional fee. Asian grocery items are also available.

In the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, as xenophobia ran rampant, Asian restaurants flipped on a dime from dine-in to takeout and delivery by necessity. All told in its 20-plus cities, according to Wen, Chowbus saw a 300% rise in active users year over year and a 600% boost in revenue. Business has doubled during the pandemic, the company said.

Chowbus, which is privately held, has received $38 million in investment, including a $33 million investment over the summer, to expand its national footprint.

Just about every restaurant in Philadelphia’s Chinatown is on Chowbus. Its five most popular local restaurants are Xun Yu Si Kao, Shanghai 1, Chu Shang Spicy, Mango Mango Dessert, and M Kee, and the five most ordered dishes are ma la soup from Chu Shang Spicy, kung fu milk tea from Kung Fu Tea, creme brulee milk tea from A Cup of Tea, braised pork rice with boiled egg from Shanghai 1, and wings from TSAOCAA BBQ.