The “black Yoshinoya” beef bowl chain is rapidly growing. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The “black Yoshinoya” beef bowl chain is rapidly growing.

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Yoshinoya with its innovative black sign

Many of you may have thought, “Oh? Many of you may have thought, “Oh?

The beef bowl chain Yoshinoya has been increasing the number of stores with black signs. Yoshinoya has until now had a strong image of orange signs. However, according to the company, it plans to increase the number of “black Yoshinoya” stores to 500 by 2024. Behind this is a compelling situation in the fiercely competitive beef bowl industry.

The comments made by a Yoshinoya executive became a major issue at a lecture for working adults, “Strategies to Make Young People Love Gyudon,” hosted by a well-known private university in April this year. A man in the position of executive director (at the time) made the following statement.

This is the kind of project that a young girl from the countryside who doesn’t know what’s right or left will use for the first time and end up in a shabu-shabu (a Japanese style of shabu-zushi). If I could get a man to buy me an expensive meal, I would never eat there.

When the participants disclosed the comments made by the executives on social networking sites, the situation immediately erupted into a firestorm. Yoshinoya apologized, saying, “It is extremely inappropriate and unacceptable from the perspective of human rights and gender issues. The Internet was flooded with comments that could have led to a boycott campaign, such as “I will never use Yoshinoya again” and “I have given up on Yoshinoya.

Drink bars and ice cream

Yoshinoya with its innovative black signboard (some photos have been doctored)

In the fiscal year ended in August, among the three major beef bowl chains (“Sukiya” and “Matsuya”), only Yoshinoya posted a year-on-year decline in sales and customer numbers. The “inappropriate remarks” were not the only cause of the predicament. Economic journalist Takashi Matsuzaki explains.

Most Yoshinoya restaurants are located near train stations in busy downtown areas. The menu is centered on beef bowls, and the main target is single salarymen. However, due to the new COVID-19 crisis, businessmen were not going downtown as often, and Yoshinoya was in a bad position.

As a project to revive the business, the company is rapidly increasing the number of “black Yoshinoya” restaurants. The company plans to expand not only in the city center but also in the suburbs. What is the concept? Mr. Matsuzaki continues.

The existing Yoshinoya restaurants are mainly counter-style restaurants, where the waiter simply places the meat on top of the rice and serves the beef bowl without any hassle. Customers would eat quickly and leave the restaurant immediately. However, “Black Yoshinoya” is different. The kitchen and seating area are separated from each other, and there are many tables. The atmosphere is like that of a café, and you can relax.

The menu is also extensive. There are dishes such as half-boiled egg black curry, eel-jyu, a dring bar, and even vanilla ice cream. What is surprising is the wide variety of fried dishes on the menu. Fried foods take time and effort to make using a fryer. The price is also a little high, around 550 yen compared to the 300 yen price of a regular beef bowl (until last year). This is a product that overturns the image of Yoshinoya as cheap and fast.

What is the goal of this new product?

We are targeting women, young people, and families. The conventional product for single salarymen does not offer any prospects. Among families and women, there are many who are willing to enjoy a little luxury at least for a meal on an occasional outing. With the rising costs of raw materials and labor, Yoshinoya is probably aiming to broaden its customer base by offering a rich menu and quality food at slightly higher prices,” says Matsuzaki.

From Orange to Black. Yoshinoya, which has been damaged by the scandal, is about to undergo a major rebirth.

Conventional orange-based Yoshinoya stores
Yoshinoya with a novel black signboard (some photos have been doctored)
Yoshinoya with a novel black signboard
  • Photographed by Takashi Yamazaki

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