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Yoshinoya Begins U.S. Franchise Expansion
The Japanese quick-service restaurant chain maintains its 19th-century roots as it moves eastward from California.
Yoshinoya restaurant

Yoshinoya, a Japanese restaurant company with more than 1,300 locations throughout the world and a history that began in a Tokyo fish market nearly 110 years ago, has announced two new appointments in a plan that will expand its base of 86 restaurants in the United States through nationwide franchising.

Oliver Cortes, who started with the company in 1981 as a cashier, has been appointed to president and CEO of Yoshinoya Franchise of North America Inc., which is based in Torrance, California. Scot Hobert, a former Subway executive, has been named vice president of franchise development and sales.

Like Panda Express, Wagamama, Pei Wei, and Mama Fu’s, Yoshinoya is among the pan-Asian concepts that continue to grow in popularity in the quick-service and fast-casual arenas. At the time of this report, two development agreements have been signed that will bring new Yoshinoya restaurants to Arizona and Nevada within the next year as part of “Yoshi’s” franchise expansion plan, which offers both single franchise and territory agreements.

The family owned company was incorporated in 1958, and in 1979 Yoshinoya West Inc. opened its first restaurant in California. In January 2003, Yoshinoya America was established as a holding company in a bid to expand operations in the United States.

“Our goal is to continue our expansion in California, Arizona, and Nevada,” says Cortes. “In Vegas, there are two in existence already, and another one is planned. In Arizona, we will open two in suburban Phoenix, one in Glendale, and the other in Goodyear. One is under construction and the other is expected to open in June.”

East coast expansion is planned as well, but while Times Square in New York is home to one company-owned restaurant, growth there will not happen before franchise development in the west.

“We plan to expand to the east coast, but I don’t see it happening this year,” Cortes says. “We might begin next year. It’s been our plan to take this national for a long time.”

The developing palates of consumers are key to Yoshinoya’s expansion, along with the demand for wholesome alternatives that are also economical. The menu is based on fresh ingredients in a variety of rice bowls, including its signature dish, the trademarked Beef Bowl that Cortes and Hobert say started it all in 1899.

At $3.29, the Beef Bowl features thin slices of beef simmered with fresh onions in a special sauce of herbs and spices on a bed of steamed rice. Teriyaki chicken, vegetable, and combo bowls round out the menu.

“Our food is very wholesome,” Hobert says. “You have your rice, your veggies, and your protein, and it’s very portable.”

Like Panda Express, Wagamama, Pei Wei, and Mama Fu’s, Yoshinoya is among the pan-Asian concepts that continue to grow in popularity.

Cortes adds that the 1,300 Yoshinoya restaurants in Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines have widely adopted the North American menu, which he says has the same popularity there as hamburger quick-serves do in the United States.

“Right now, they have other things on their menu, like pork, but the bulk of the business is still beef,” he adds. “Restaurants in Japan also offer breakfast—steamed salmon with rice.”

Hobert says two new menu items, barbecue chicken and a short-rib plate, are also being tested in the United States. “These are new offerings to keep customers interested,” he says, adding that Yoshinoya Franchise of North America has also just signed an agreement with Radiant Technologies for its point-of-sale systems.

That’s not to say there are not plenty of Yoshinoya supporters in North America.

During a recent trip to check on the progress of its new restaurants in Arizona, officials visited a P.F. Chang’s restaurant and servers there were glad to hear Yoshinoya was coming to town.

“When the servers saw the corporate card, they were so excited. We have our loyalists,” Hobert says. “I get e-mails all the time from people in Missouri and Texas and all over wondering when we’re going to open up there. We have a lot of people following our progress.”

Cortes adds, “We have people driving 50 or 60 miles just to go to Yoshinoya. That alone is a good reason for us to expand.”

The plans, which will be spearheaded by Hobert, presently call for 1,000 restaurants across the United States, with franchise operations in corner and end-cap locations near universities, hospitals, central business districts, and high traffic shopping areas.