I went to ThisBowl, in NoHo, at three P.M. on a recent Thursday, after the usual down-the-block line for the Asian-inspired salad-and-rice-bowl restaurant had finally dwindled. Inside, models in knee-length denim shorts and professionals on late lunch breaks sipped on housemade cucumber-and-Thai-basil soda and dug into the viral O.G. bowl, which has heaping servings of avocado, salmon sashimi, sushi rice, cabbage, and seaweed salad. Nic Pestalozzi, 30, and Nathan Dalah, 31, two of the three founders of ThisBowl, stood behind the counter, taking orders, cooking with their crew in the open kitchen, and calling out ticket numbers.

It was Dalah’s 40th consecutive day working behind the counter at the Australia-based chain’s first New York location. “It’s more strategic than functional,” he says. “I’m really [here] to steer the ship. I want to interact with as many people as possible, and I want to make sure the product going out is as close to what I intended as possible.”

ThisBowl’s most popular dish is the O.G. bowl.

Dalah grew up in Sydney with four siblings in a food-focused family. His father, Michael, immigrated to Australia from Iraq in 1969, and worked for fabric merchants in Sydney before taking over an event-and-corporate-catering company called Laissez-Faire. On family vacations, Dalah recalls eagerly anticipating visits to new cafés, restaurants, and markets, not museums and cultural sights.

Dalah met his co-founders, Pestalozzi and Casper Ettelson, 29, while he was studying at the University of Technology Sydney. Frustrated by the difficulty of finding healthy and affordable food options, the Australian trio took matters into their own hands, deciding to launch a restaurant called FishBowl. To start the business, Dalah invested the money he made running a boat-cleaning business in college. He also inadvertently drew FishBowl’s logo, a one-line fish with ferocious teeth. He doodled it on a napkin to show the idea to graphic designers. “The agent of the first store we were opening in asked for it, I sent it, and that was that.”

The original FishBowl opened its doors in the Sydney suburb of Bondi Beach in 2016. The menu offered an array of vegetable-packed, customizable bowls, from beef brisket with edamame and wasabi mayo to miso-glazed eggplant with tofu and ginger, for less than $20. While Sydney isn’t lacking in healthy restaurants, Australians associate fast food with American brands such as KFC and McDonald’s. Inspired by the 2010s boom in healthier fast-casual-dining chains, like Cava, Chipotle, and Sweetgreen, Dalah sensed an opportunity. The three started FishBowl to offer the excitement of walking into a coveted restaurant with a young crowd, great music, and a sleek, industrial interior, but with the convenience of a fast-food chain.

Within three years, FishBowl had opened 14 locations in Sydney and Melbourne. Now it’s up to 45 stores in Australia, with 25 stores in Sydney, 10 in Melbourne, and 10 in Brisbane. Dalah and Pestalozzi have also started three more restaurants: Fish Shop, a modern, sit-down fish-and-chips shop, and Burger Park, a fast-casual-barbecue spot, in Bondi Beach, as well as Side Room, a health-food store, in Sydney.

“To compete [in Australia] and win there, you need a strong product and point of view,” Dalah says.

ThisBowl’s co-founders, Casper Ettelson, Dalah, and Nic Pestalozzi.

He always thought the FishBowl concept would work well in America, where many people struggle to find good meat and produce at reasonable prices, and where fast-casual businesses grow rapidly. “There is nothing Australian about the brand,” says Dalah. “We’re really trying to build the best quick-service-restaurant brand in the world.” The only Australian thing, he says, is the attention FishBowl pays to food quality—something currently lacking in the United States.

Dalah admits it required more work to find great produce in America than in Australia. At home, he says, “I might have five farms that are big enough and good enough to supply me, whereas here there’ll be 500, and [only] 50 of them will be really good.” To find the best producers, the founders consulted others in the food industry, including their executive chef, Cabernet Nguyen, who used to work at One White Street, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Tribeca.

The decision for FishBowl’s first international outpost to be in New York was a no-brainer, as the founders believe succeeding in the competitive New York environment means succeeding globally. Dalah visited New York frequently over the last year, studying different neighborhoods to decide where to open ThisBowl. After considering Tribeca and Midtown, he landed on NoHo. It was the place where he saw people “who really give a shit about what they’re eating and how they consume it, where it’s coming from and how it makes them feel.”

Dalah, Pestalozzi, and Ettelson decided to change the chain’s name to ThisBowl for the U.S. market to ensure new clients made no assumptions about the menu before trying the food. “Whatever it is that we’re doing, it hits them when they walk in,” says Dalah.

In February, he welcomed his second child with his wife, Georgia Fowler, the New Zealand–born model. That same month, he moved from Sydney to New York on his own to oversee the NoHo project. Fowler and the children have since joined him. The family plans to stay long-term. “I live a crazy life. It’s a crazy pace,” Dalah says, “but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Jeanne Malle is an Associate Editor at AIR MAIL