How husband and wife Chad Newton and Grace Nguyen took their experience in fine dining to create delicious, yet approachable cuisine.
When two accomplished chefs meet, inspiration ensues. When said chefs marry, magic happens. And when they decide to open a restaurant for Bay Area foodies, then the pleasure becomes all ours. Since 2012, Chad Newton and Grace Nguyen, along with partner and restaurateur Frank Klein, have been feeding locals delicious rice dishes at Asian Box in Palo Alto’s Town & Country Village.
This journey began in 2001, while they were both working for Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio. Nguyen was the night grill cook while Newton was the front-of-the-house food runner and expeditor. “She still claims that she doesn’t remember me from that time. But I definitely remember her,” Newton recalls. Nguyen went on to open Postrio in Las Vegas, and Newton continued working as an Executive Chef throughout San Francisco. A few years later, while dining at The Slanted Door with his father, Newton approached Nguyen, who was the restaurant’s executive chef at the time. “She was so kind and pretended to remember me,” Newton says. Soon after, they started seeing each other and were married in Sonoma in 2011. “It’s cool that we can say we met each other in the restaurant world doing something that we both loved,” Newton says.
“We both grew up with food being the center of everything. It’s what made our families closer.”
After their wedding, they decided to do something that would challenge any newlywed couple: open a restaurant. Nguyen is Vietnamese and grew up cooking with her family and wanted to open a restaurant that would emulate Asian street stalls. “They’re common in Vietnam and they create a menu based on what they can find from the vendors that day,” she explains. “There’s no refrigeration out there so everything is made fresh.”
Nguyen wanted to implement this type of cuisine into the restaurant in a way that wouldn’t be scoop-and-serve down a hot line. Instead, meat is grilled in small batches per order. “And we also wanted to create something that was very chef driven, but also approachable for people at an affordable price,” Newton adds.
The end result was Asian Box, with a menu ranging from rice dishes such as Vietnamese Hot Chicken and The Ox Box to Banh Mi sandwiches and spring rolls. Plus, everything is made fresh from locally sourced products. “And at Asian Box, nothing is frozen. The kitchen doesn’t even have a freezer,” Nguyen notes, “so our meat and produce are delivered daily.” Since Asian Box debuted nearly nine years ago, nine other locations have opened—six in Northern California and four in Southern California—with more to come. “It’s so nice to see that we are still going strong, making great food, and having a lot of fun doing it,” Newton says.
Winner Winner Chicken
A husband, wife, and business partner walk into a kitchen and create a true winner.
For couple Bridgette and Jeremy Chen, food was an integral part of their respective childhoods. Delicious scents filled their kitchens and floated amongst the noise and laughter of everyone rehashing their days. “We both grew up with food being the center of everything. It’s what made our families closer,” Jeremy recalls.
So it comes as no surprise that they both pursued careers in the culinary world. “This industry has always been so electric for me,” Bridgette shares. “The energy was just so different from anything else I had ever worked in.” She gravitated toward the business side while Jeremy chose the chef route. Their paths crossed while they were both working for Greg St. Claire at Avenir Restaurant Group. “Being able to work next to Greg and his wealth of knowledge was priceless,” Bridgette says. She transitioned from serving into the general manager role for Milagro’s—playing an internal part in its recent expansion, rebrand, and facelift. “It was the most challenging few years of my career, but I just loved every minute of the process,” she adds. Jeremy hopped around many of the Avenir restaurants, working up the ladder before becoming Executive Chef of Town and then the Corporate Chef of Avenir – creating menus for Alpine Inn, Milagro’s, Town, and Nola.
Two years ago, they welcomed their own little dish to the world – their daughter, Margaux. This recent addition to the family inspired their next business venture. “We found that eating with a little one changed our expectations of what a dining experience should be,” Jeremy says. They joined business partner Randy Magpantay (with whom Jeremy also owns a catering company) and opened Winner Winner Chicken at Hillsdale Shopping Center. “I’m Jeremy and Randy’s biggest fan,” Bridgette says. “There’s no one else I would do this project with than them.”
The white tile interior and iron fixtures create a modern farmhouse look while the atmosphere is fun and lively. A menu highlight is the fried chicken, which is hormone- and antibiotic-free and naturally raised. “We’ve spent the last nine months taste testing a lot of fried chicken,” Jeremy laughs.
This fan favorite will be served alongside hearty side dishes such as corn casserole, tangy slaw, and green bean casserole. Healthy fare like Impossible burgers, salads, and green juices are also on the menu. “We’ve even partnered with Barry’s Bootcamp and its instructors have created a salad option for the menu,” Bridgette says.
The location may be geared towards fulfilling the fast food desires of the masses, but high-quality ingredients and dynamic service set it apart. “I feel like sometimes quick service gets a bad rap,” Jeremy says. “So it’s really important to us to give every customer a full-service experience by using our wealth of knowledge in the food industry.”