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  • STORY BEHIND THE SUCCESS

    Even if no experience of food service business, it can be cleared with passion.
    Rather than experiences, it is important whether there is a strong intention to develop the brand.

■ Originator of dining culture

We do not develop our own brands in Japan.
We consider the business model in which financial relations (such as franchise fee, loyalty) take precedence is not suitable for the corporate culture of Wondertable.
Our franchise is based on spreading Japanese dining and restaurant cultures abroad, as well as reproducing overseas exciting, experiencing-based dining cultures in Japan without impairing the authenticity.
Namely we consist of two wheels. One is creating high-quality brands in Japan to expand abroad, and the other is contracting with high-quality overseas brands to develop in Japan.
For this purpose, rather than always finding leading partners, we are advancing a scheme of collaborating with companies that have a good field and right persons in the right place.
For example, we understand more about the food service situations and localities in Tokyo and Osaka, so we are able to make right decisions based on our accumulated marketing data.
Meanwhile for a business in Thailand, Thai people understand it most.
Therefore, instead of pressing our brands and know-hows, we try to make prospective partners judge our true values.

■ Partnerships with overseas famous brands

“Lawry’s The Prime Rib” is a prime rib specialty restaurant opened in Los Angeles in 1938. In USA it is a very popular meal and “Let’s go eat prime rib” means about eating at this restaurant.
This restaurant features dynamic performances such as cutting the meat served in a silver cart like a spaceship in front of customers.
The restaurant has also led the American restaurant culture such as the “valet parking” to deposit the car key that you drive and the person in charge parks the car instead and the “doggie bag” service to bring out the remaining dishes.
Lawry’s is one of American’s favourite restaurants.
It seems that many Japanese companies had offered to launch the brand restaurants in Japan, but Lawry’s did not accept such offers at all.
Their desire was not just related to license fees or royalties nor an easy-going business that is influenced by merely temporary trends. They were looking for a Japanese company with the same desire to take care of the brand, to keep the tradition and to sustainably continue the management.
This was exactly the same idea as ours.
Such a desire triggered each other and I went to see Lawry’s in Los Angeles with the former representative in 2001.
My impression of the moment when I first entered Lawry’s is still unforgettable.
I got the feeling that “I really want to come back again” and thought that so many people could experience the same way if we reproduce “an authentic American restaurant where customers can enjoy the same experience while in Japan”.
Since we believe that mutual understanding is the most important to develop and inherit the real Lawry’s, we are still checking each other day by day.
And the next opportunity came over.
It was a surprise meeting with Mr. Danny Meyer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), a New York food service company, who is famous with his impressive line “Recipes can be copied at any time, the only thing that can not be imitated by anyone is to take care customers for giving impressive and special experiences”.
He was a businessman of a popular restaurant that always won first or second place in the restaurant ranking of New York and called as “God of hospitality”.
Although it was thought that he would not open a restaurant outside of New York. However, we had a close relationship and could open “Union Square Tokyo”, a sister restaurant of USHG group’s top brand “Union Square Cafe”.
This restaurant opening was a sensational event not only in Japan but also for the world food & beverage industry.
Due to our partnerships and successes with Lawry’s and USHG in Japan, currently excellent overseas brands find us to offer business opportunities with Wondertable.

■ Finally time has caught up with Wondertable

The current Japanese food service market is slightly increasing, and the market size is about 25 trillion yen per year.
The future demand in Japan tends to decline overall, while on the other hand, food services in overseas markets such as Asian countries will continue to grow.
“People who have not relied on a credit card now pay with the card, and the person used to ride a motorcycle drives a car.”
As the economic situation changing like this, there are an increasing number of people saying “If eating out, other than my country’s dishes, I like to eat Japanese foods”.
According to statistics, the number of overseas Japanese restaurants was 80 thousand three years ago, has now increased to 118 thousand.
Unfortunately, only about 10% of Japanese restaurants in which Japanese people are engaged in managements or operations.
Because it is a such situation, we further desire to deliver our brands abroad as an evangelist of the proper Japanese food culture.
As far the Japanese food and beverage brands that are currently deployed overseas, even the major Japanese restaurant chains only have 200 to 300 outlets deployed. Now we are developing 67 restaurants abroad and working hard as one of the Japanese food service companies with many overseas outlets.
Our first overseas expansion was in Taiwan. In 1998, we established a joint venture company in Taiwan with an Italian restaurant “TOKYO BELINI CAFE” which we filtered and rearranged in Japan. And after that, we opened Mo-Mo-Paradise and Tenkichiya as well.
The next opportunity was to have a good partner in Thailand. We developed Mo-Mo-Paradise
and now get the position that Mo-Mo-Paradise is the number one restaurant for eating shabu-shabu or sukiyaki not only in Thailand, but also in ASEAN countries.
Regarding the recent overseas expansion boom, as we have been dealing with overseas development since earlier, so it seems that “finally time has caught up with us”.
The success in these two countries has driven our overseas expanding activity, and now we have 67 restaurants in total overseas with 6 brands of three types of food categories; “Shabu-Shabu”, “Tempura”, “Italian”.
Either in Japan or overseas origin, the following three points should be the key factors of brand creation.
1) High expertise
2) Unique experience
3) Authenticity

■ Naturally there are issues in overseas expansion

On the premise that overseas expansion has issues, the important points as to whether or not a partnership will be established;
1) Trust relationship between both managements
2) Stable financial situation
3) Passion
Even if no experience of food service business, it can be cleared with passion.
Rather than experiences, it is important whether there is a strong intention to develop the brand.
As there are many issues to be solved such as law, survey, registration, franchise law, import & export transactions in each country, overseas expansion it seems difficult to clear overseas expansion without the above foundation at minimum.
While we are searching for new partners, we take the stance of not doing sales on our own.
We explain about our brands using images/videos on the web. However, rather than a sales activity such as exhibiting at global franchise shows, it is our opinion that if a passionate partner company appears in front of us we would like to support with 120% of our effort.

■ Towards the near future

Regarding the domestic market, our eleven restaurants out of the 50 restaurants in Japan have received the excellence certificates from TripAdvisor.
We believe that the result of promotions using our accumulated marketing abilities has brought this honour.
Not only the customer service in foreign languages, staff who can speak the mother tongue of each customer introduce menus and how to eat, making our customers enjoy more delicious meals and more pleasant time.
Also, Japanese staff has a handbook named “Foreign Language Service Hand Book” that summarizes foreign language greetings and customer service terms. We also use this handbook to role-play customer services so that we can serve foreign customers.
As our future overseas expansion, we would like to advance to Myanmar, Laos, Hong Kong, Macao, Philippines and Australia, etc.
We aim to open 100 restaurants in 10 countries in 2020 and 150 in 2030.
We constantly think about synergistic effects in both directions with the consciousness that are accepted in the world, namely to the world through the Japanese food business, and to Japan through the world brands.
In our own way, we would like to continue to deliver excellent brands and know-hows both domestically and internationally.

Lika Nakanishi

After finishing the interview

It was more than ten years ago that I experienced “Lawry’s ” for the first time.
At that time I also felt the same impression that President Akiyama received in Los Angeles.

As I used to work in the food & beverage industry, even when I was eating at a trendy restaurant, I guessed the area of the shop, the cost per customer, the breakeven point, and so on. For this reason there were not many shops that I was purely impressed.

I really experienced “the moment of excitement as a mere customer” at the “Lawries” for the first time in a long time. I could understand why there were such good reputations as “standing out business”, “shop where I want to take family”, etc.

The first domestic restaurant in Akasaka closed in 2014 due to the rebuilding of the Akasaka Twin Tower. In the same year the restaurant in Ebisu opened. In 2017 the restaurant in Akasaka was reopened at the place of foundation.

What is the future business that Captain Akiyama, who leads the Wondertable, will land in Japan?
It should also be noted how he steers the voyages that spread Japanese food culture abroad.

Company Profile

Wondertable, Ltd.
President & COO: Michio Akimoto
Capita: JPY 80,000,000
Business Activities: Management of restaurants, Recruitment of restaurants by franchise chain system & Guidance of franchisees
Location: 22th Floor, Tokyo Opera City Tower, 3-20-2 Nishi-shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 163-1403 JAPAN