What started as a small “farm to taco” stand at DC farmers markets nearly a decade ago now has over 3.5 million taco sales under its belt—and nationwide ambition. Chaia, which currently operates three vegetarian taquerias in Georgetown, Chinatown, and Bethesda, is planting seeds for expansion. Co-founders Bettina Stern and Suzanne Simon have brought on former Shake Shack Mid-Atlantic Area Director Allan Ng as Chaia’s Chief Operating Officer in hopes of growing their plant-powered brand.
“The goal with Chaia was always to go beyond the three current shops and take our vegetable tacos all across the country,” says Stern, who along with Simon will remain in a leadership role and drive culinary creation. “With Allan I knew we could take Chaia to the next level.”
Ng, who grew up working in his family’s Chinese restaurants in North Carolina before joining the corporate culinary world at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, says he’s homed in on the Mid-Atlantic as a starting point for growth. The team is particularly focused on Northern Virginia (Ng lives in Arlington) to complete Chaia’s presence in the DMV. Chaia’s Bethesda long-term pop-up, which launched last year, is being extended further.
Ng spent nearly a decade at Shake Shack, expanding the burger-centric brand’s regional markets and founding Shack Track & Field, a health-focused run club that meets at Shacks nationwide. Though he’s trading meat for veggies, Ng says his approach will be similar.
“They [Shake Shack] have always been well known for quality sourcing,” Ng says. “Sourcing local, speaking to small groups, and partnering with them—I’m really excited to jump into the farmers markets and collaborate.”