Started by a group of Yale grads in 2015, Junzi is all about bringing diners thoughtfully prepared Chinese food in a fast casual setting. With a winning concept and a scrappy startup mentality, Junzi now has three popular locations spread across Manhattan.

Then the COVID-19 crisis hit, forcing restaurants around the world to rethink their operations and figure out a way to keep their doors open.

“As a restaurant business, our sole reason for existence is to serve people,” says Nicky Chang, Junzi’s Head of Design and Strategy. “But because so much of our team has family in China, we knew early on that things were about to change quickly.” Finding a way to serve people was about to get a lot harder — and would call for those same principles of resourcefulness and creativity that had already gotten the Junzi team so far.

Bringing the dining experience into homes

In the wake of COVID-19, the Junzi staff asked themselves a key question: If you were to design a dinner club during a crisis, what would that look like? Without a doubt, it would have to be highly accessible, nourish people, and bring them some hope during an uncertain time.

Through this line of thinking, the idea for Distance Dining was born. Delivered without contact, Distance Dining  is a three-course meal people can enjoy in their homes — but this isn’t your average delivery meal. Each week’s menu has a theme and can be enjoyed alongside culinary experts on Instagram Live every Friday. The unique blended experience combines hands-on dining with virtual culinary storytelling. 

Junzi had already worked with Eventbrite to handle its popular Chef’s Study tasting menu events, a monthly dining series that explores the evolving narrative of Chinese cuisine. Distance Dining was essentially Chef’s Study, adapted for delivery — which meant Eventbrite’s help would become even more crucial in the launch of this new initiative.

Distance Dining Vol.3 Chinese Puerto Rican – photography by Byron J Wu .

Finding a platform that delivers accessibility

“During this pandemic, people have felt a great deal of stress,” says Chang. “So giving customers a reliable product experience was very important to us.” That meant that even a simple Eventbrite feature like the ability to customize URLs took on greater importance. Those details give users the week-in, week-out consistency that they’re looking for at this time. They never have to struggle to find the right URL or worry about navigating a confusing user interface.

That seamless experience doesn’t just help the customer, it also helped the quick-moving Junzi team launch this new initiative without any headaches. Eventbrite integrated easily with Junzi’s other third-party apps, like Instagram and its delivery services. “I’m not a coder at all,” says Chang. “But a good user interface should be intuitive, which is how Eventbrite works for me.” 

When Chang wanted to sell little jars of Junzi’s own house chili oil to Distance Dining attendees, she was able to spring into action quickly. All she had to do was turn on Eventbrite’s event merch section then add the product and tag it so customers could find it. “I literally put it up within a minute and the orders started rolling in,” says Chang. 

Using Eventbrite has also helped the Junzi team find their audience. They’ve found that customers are following Junzi right on Eventbrite, letting them know immediately when a new Distance Dining event has been posted. Chang and her team are able to track analytics on the app, giving the team an up-to-the-minute sense of how their events are performing.

Finding success — and paying it forward

Distance Dining has been a hit for Junzi, routinely selling out within 48 hours of posting on Eventbrite. 

The success of this program has underscored the need for creativity in the restaurant industry. Chang believes the future of this industry lies in thinking outside the box to meet the customer halfway and make that meal they’re having at home still feel special. The days of dull TV dinners are over. More consumers are embracing the idea that you can have a freshly prepared, chef-designed meal in the comfort of your home. And instead of sitting in front of the TV, you might be sitting in front of Instagram Live, enjoying the meal in a communal, real-time way with people from all over.

The Junzi team wants everyone to have access to these memorable at-home dining experiences — especially the dedicated frontline workers getting the city through this crisis. Their Share A Meal program aims to bring healthy, balanced meals to these hard-working individuals. Already they’ve delivered more than 3,000 meals to frontline workers — and here’s how you can help them deliver even more

“We’re so grateful this program allows us to pay it forward and help those on the frontlines,” says Chang. “Between Share A Meal and Distance Dining, we’re just trying to find creative ways to spread the joy of good food and help those in need.”