“The Founder of Tenka Ippin Reveals 50 Years of Fierce Competition: “Even the Yakuza Didn’t Pull Me In | FRIDAY DIGITAL

“The Founder of Tenka Ippin Reveals 50 Years of Fierce Competition: “Even the Yakuza Didn’t Pull Me In

Tsutomu Kimura, who started selling ramen for the first time on November 10, exactly half a century ago, talks about his half-century history.

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Tsutomu Kimura, chairman of the Tenka Ippin ramen chain, speaks passionately about the turbulence of the past half century, looking no older than 86.

“…… It’s very moving. Yeah. When I was leading the stall, I never dreamed that we would make it this far. I think this is all thanks to your cooperation.

The view of Lake Biwa spreading out below is a sign of being a tenkaichi.

Spa Resort Ogoto Agarense in Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture, owned by Tenka Ippin. In the chairman’s room, which is lined with works of art and animals of prey, Tsutomu Kimura, 86, the founder and current chairman of Tenka Ippin, looks back on his rich life and narrows his eyes.

On our first night, we sold only 11 cups.

Fifty years ago today. On November 10, 1971, the company I was working for went bankrupt, and I asked a friend of mine to build a food stall out of scrap wood, and we sold ramen for the first time around Ginkakuji Temple in Kyoto. Fifty years have passed since that night, and the nameless ramen that sold only eleven bowls has become the “Tenka Ippin”, an unparalleled bowl of ramen that has raised its flag in the rivalry of the warring nations.

“The name “Tenka Ippin” is just a coincidence. The name “Tenka Ippin” really came about by accident. There is a Kabuki theater in Kyoto, the Minami-za. In Kyoto, there is a Kabuki theater, the Minamiza. They used to have a stall in the middle of this place. In Kabuki, they say, “That actor is ‘ Tenka Ippin'”. If you name your ramen with that name, customers will pay much more attention to you. I don’t know what to do with it. …… I just came up with it randomly. Japanese.

A name is an expression of a body. At the time of its establishment, the ramen was a soy sauce-based ramen that he had heard about from his food cart friends and could be found anywhere. The main pillar was chicken. The main ingredient was chicken stock. The mainstay of the ramen was chicken stock and a large amount of vegetables.

The reason why he insisted on chicken broth was because when he was hospitalized for a physical disorder, the doctor told him, “Be careful about what you eat at home. The doctor told me, ‘Be careful what you eat at home, preferably fish or chicken. That’s what’s good for you. After hearing that, I decided to focus on chicken. Beef or pork would make more soup, and it would be easier to make an impact, but I would have to taste it every day, so I thought I’d do my best to make soup using this chicken. That’s how I ended up with 86. I guess that’s how I ended up with a healthy ramen that I can eat every day until I’m 86.

However, the process to arrive at such a rich soup using chicken stock was extremely difficult. Naturally, the cost of ingredients increased, and it took him about four years of persistence to complete the “Kotteri,” which is synonymous with Tenka Ippin, despite having to raise funds. Since then, the recipe of Tenka Ippin ramen has been kept secret from the public, with only a few people knowing the recipe, and it has continued to capture the hearts and stomachs of many people.

“For 50 years, he has been serving his customers. I think the reason why customers have been coming to my restaurant for 50 years is because I have continued to make this “rich” soup. As with anything, it’s hard to keep the same thing the same for a long time. It’s not something that can be changed just because of a short-term boom. Once you’ve made up your mind, you can’t shake it. If you decide to stick with chicken bones, you stick with chicken bones. The difference is that in order to stick to one thing, you have to do it until you finish it. Once you’ve decided on something, you have to adjust the taste by asking yourself, “What can I do to make the customers happy?

If a customer leaves something behind, I ask them to drink the soup. I get various opinions from people who have eaten the soup, such as, “It tastes too rich,” or “There’s not enough oil,” and I taste it every day and ask myself, “Is this the right flavor for today? While tasting the food every day, I asked myself, “Is this the right flavor for today?

When I opened my first store, the main store in Kitashirakawa, about 400 people came to visit. It was a dream come true. It was a dream. My dream has become reality. This was probably the happiest time in my 50 years. It was probably the happiest time in the past 50 years. With that joy and the thought that I have to work hard from now on, I have been able to make it until today. 233 (as of November 2021) One store at a time. Every time we open a store, we get a lot of customers. …… I couldn’t be happier.

In the 1990s, a factory was completed in Seta, Shiga Prefecture, to handle all aspects of soup production. In the 1990s, a factory was completed in Seta, Shiga Prefecture, to handle all aspects of the soup production process, completing a nationwide supply system.

Even so, Tenka Ippin did not allow the number of new stores to increase unnecessarily, and flew to each new franchise store as if it were his own alter ego, providing guidance with great affection. No matter how many stores he opened, whenever he found a spare moment, he would appear on his motorcycle, taste the soup with a spoon, and then leave with a harsh comment.

“I’m not mean to people, but when it comes to work, I’m mean.

It can be said that the “rich” taste of Tenka Ippin has been preserved by the “yellow monk’s” tasting tours that continue to this day.

“It’s so easy to just open more restaurants. No matter how many restaurants we open, we will only open 300. No matter how many stores I open, I will only open 300 stores. Because, for me, success is the taste of ramen. Taste. “Making delicious kotori and serving it to customers is my job and my purpose in life. That being the case, I’ve turned down many people who wanted to open their own restaurants.

People who say, “I have money, so why don’t I just open a restaurant? You have to be serious, and you have to be able to stand in the restaurant and do your best to serve the customers a delicious drink. Besides, with such people owning and operating the stores, the distance between the stores should be 100 to 200 meters. If they were only 100 or 200 meters apart, it would be a nuisance. If the shops were only 100 or 200 meters apart, it would be a nuisance. That’s why I don’t allow them to open stores everywhere.

Once you try it, you’ll be hooked on the thick, chicken-based soup (photo by Hidenobu Murase).

Hiroki Matsukata, Kon Omura, SUGIZO… are also addicted to “Kotoruri”.

The threshold to join the family is high, but once you’re in, you’re thoroughly protected. The discipline of kotteri is thicker than blood and deeper than soup. For 50 years, we have valued our relationships with people. This philosophy is also reflected in the Tenka Ippin’s spa resort facility, “Agarense,” which opened in 2005 in Yukin over the fierce opposition of the executive staff.

Some of you may have bumped into Chairman Kimura while standing in line and been given an invitation to this place. This bathhouse, built with two natural springs as a “place to give back to our customers,” is a dragon palace for Tenkaichi fans, with a popular theater, deluxe reclining chairs, and one of the largest bedrock baths in Kansai. Currently, they are carving out a part of the lake to build a glamping facility, and the way they have changed the shape of Lake Biwa by starting from a food stall is truly heavenly. Incidentally, they have only Italian, Yakiniku, and Japanese restaurants, and no Tenka Ippin restaurant is attached to the facility because they are concerned about their neighboring restaurants, Kenda and Karasaki.

“I knew it. I couldn’t do it on my own. Since the time I was running the stall, I have been connected with many people, and that’s how I got where I am today. Since Tenka Ippin became big, many chicken shops have been trying to get into our business by asking us to buy their products or offering them at a discount. But I’m not going to change my supplier. Some of them have grown together in order to make delicious kotteri. Except for the ones that have gone out of business, I basically can’t change them. I’ve handed over the presidency to my son now, but that’s the only thing that hasn’t changed.

I’ve been here almost every day since I became the president, and when I’m here, I can hear the voices of the customers. I can hear the voices of many customers saying, “The soup there is too thin or too tepid. There are people who are over 70 years old who say, “I’ve been eating there since it was a food stall. The other day, a man who used to be a policeman in Kyoto came to take a bath and said, “Mr. Chairman, you used to have a stall at the Ginkakuji Temple. He said, ‘Mr. Chairman, you used to have a stall at the Ginkakuji temple. When the yakuza came to interfere with your stall and beat you to a bloody pulp, I stopped them.

I was going to take him to the hospital, but he wouldn’t go because he didn’t have the money,” he said. When I was pulling a cart, no matter how many times I was beaten up, I never backed down to the yakuza. He stopped coming, saying, ‘This guy won’t listen to me unless I kill him.

After a while, another one came. They came to eat ramen. Ordinary people and policemen, too.

In Kyoto, Hiroki Matsukata, Kon Omura, and SUGIZO and Mr. Sugizo, who is doing a commercial for us. In Kyoto, people like Hiroki Matsukata, Kon Omura, and SUGIZO, who does our commercials, have all become fans of Kotteri. It’s been 50 years of gratitude and appreciation. It’s been 50 years.

Tenka Ippin is now under the leadership of Kazuhito Kimura, who took over as president in 2018, and the company has begun to take steps toward the next 50 years, including the launch of cup ramen and overseas expansion. In the meantime, Mr. Kimura, now a retired chairman, continues to eat a bowl of kotteri with a spoonful of garlic at one of his stores every day and listen to his customers at Agarense.

“The president is looking overseas, though. I’m old and I don’t want to do that. I’m too old for that kind of hardship. I’m too old for that kind of hardship, because foreign countries have guns for one thing. I can put up with being beaten up by yakuza in Kyoto, but not with a pistol (laughs). The most important thing is people, and employees are treasures. If I’m going to do this, I have to make sure I protect them. And then there’s the 50-year history. I want to make this rich taste that has lasted for 50 years to last for 100, 200 years. I hope it will continue for 100 years and 200 years. I hope that you will continue to do so for 100 or 200 years. …… I hope so. I hope you’re right.

I’m old now, but my passion hasn’t disappeared yet. I will be a ramen chef all my life. Even if I am reborn, I will still be a ramen shop.

I’ll be waiting for you tomorrow.

November 10th is Tenka Ippin’s anniversary event.
We will be offering a free ramen ticket for every bowl of ramen from the start of business until the end of business.
Free ramen ticket for every bowl of ramen from the beginning to the end of business.

The main branch of Tenka Ippin, established in 1971, in Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture (photo by Hidenobu Murase)
Stepping into the main store, you can see a photo of Chairman Kimura when he was a young man (photo by Hidenobu Murase).
There are more than 200 Tenka Ippin restaurants nationwide. I wonder if Chairman Kimura could have imagined how far the business would spread over the past 50 years.
Even the bowl of ramen is filled with thoughts for customers (Photo: Hidenobu Murase)
  • Interviewed and written by Hidenobu Murase Photography Kei Kato

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