Long-established giants are struggling & that dumpling store is making great strides in Corona… Undercover survey reveals! A New Map of Power in the Super Cheap Alcoholic Beverage Chain | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Long-established giants are struggling & that dumpling store is making great strides in Corona… Undercover survey reveals! A New Map of Power in the Super Cheap Alcoholic Beverage Chain

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on LINE
Torimero sells draft beer for 199 yen. Although the Watami color has faded, yakitori izakaya are still in the “red ocean,” so to speak.

A decade ago, most of the neon signs in the downtown area were dominated by the super-cheap taverns operated by major restaurant chains such as Watami and Monteroza.

However, the rise and fall of this industry has been rapid. Watami Group, once known as the “king of izakaya,” removed the “Watami” brand name from all of its izakaya brands in 2009, and replaced it with “Torimero III,” a yakitori restaurant, and “Miraizaka,” which sells fried chicken.

Torimero, which takes the “cosy” route, is characterized by low prices for drinks, such as “The Premium Malts” (medium) for 218 yen. When this reporter conducted an undercover investigation of a restaurant in central Tokyo around 9:00 p.m. on a weekday, about 70% of the seats were occupied by young people and women who appeared to be a group of housewives. The waiter recommended the “Seiryu Wakadori Momo Ippon-yaki” for 968 yen. It is expensive for a chain izakaya, but the restaurant says that many customers order it. In addition to grilled skewers, the restaurant also serves fried skewers starting at 88 yen each. The bill was 2,500 yen per person, a very average price per customer, but perhaps because of the large number of items on the menu, the food was often served late.

Despite Watami’s efforts to experiment, the number of Torimero and Miraizaka restaurants, which totaled approximately 300 in April 2007, had been reduced to 189 as of April of this year. Yakitori izakaya have a lot of competition, and it is difficult to create novelty.

In addition to the decline in the number of izakaya, the demand for banquets has plummeted due to the “new Corona pandemic. Long-established chains with “big boxes” have been hit hard.

Along with Watami, Monteroza, which operates nine izakaya brands, including Shiroki-ya and Uotami, is a huge chain with many large restaurants with more than 100 seats and a brand division of 2,500 to 4,000 yen per customer. However, Corona hit them hard and they closed 61 stores in Tokyo in 2009, and since then, there has been no sign of improvement. A former employee of Monteroza said.

Ten years ago, it was common for some stores to sell 10 million yen a month, but in recent years that number has plummeted. Then Corona caught up with them. The Monteroza chain was very manual and focused on efficiency, but it was losing customers to izakaya (Japanese style pubs), which sell unique items such as customer service and menus. As a desperate measure, they opened “Yamauchi Farm” and “Me-toriki no Ginji” one after another, which were similar to the popular izakaya style at the time, and adopted the strategy of aiming for the “second loach,” but the quality of service gradually deteriorated. However, the quality of service gradually declined, and the group as a whole tapered off as we repeatedly switched to new businesses.

Izakaya where you can come with your family

The “poster children of deflation,” which grew by offering late-night hours, low prices, and all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink options to differentiate themselves from privately owned izakayas, have failed to abandon the general izakaya format and are losing customers. Food journalist Junnosuke Nagahama says, “The izakayas are not abandoning the “general izakaya” format, and are losing customers.

In this day and age, it is no longer possible to attract customers simply by offering “everything from sashimi to skewers and deep-fried foods. Rather, it has become a week point that says, ‘There is nothing noteworthy to offer. The era of the general izakaya will not return for some time.”

What has made this type of general izakaya a thing of the past is “Tori-Kiyori,” which sells all items for the flat price of 280 yen (excluding tax). Over the past 10 years, the number of Tori Aristocrat restaurants has expanded to more than 600, offering large pieces of yakitori, authentic kamameshi (rice cooked in a pot), and even high-end whiskey such as Yamazaki and Hibiki for only about 300 yen, which would have been unthinkable at a very inexpensive izakaya. However, Tori Aristocrat is facing a headwind. Affected by the high cost of raw materials, the restaurant raised its prices to a flat rate of ¥360 including tax in May of this year. The popular menu items have also been discontinued one after another, and the premium feel of the restaurant has faded.

Tori Aristocrat is a single brand, which makes it easy to expand the chain, but it is also easy to become bored with the business. As time goes by, growth will be limited. The company acquired Daikichi System, which operates Yakitori Daikichi, this year. The total number of stores will exceed 1,000, which will likely be the difference between securing a new customer base and not,” said market advisor Hideo Amano.

In the midst of the many super-cheap liquor store chains, Tori Kikin’s drink prices are not favorable. The former advantage of uniform pricing has become a hindrance.

While long-established chains have been slowing down across the board, there is one chain that has grown even with the COVID-19 crisis. They are Kushikatsu Tanaka, which specializes in kushikatsu (skewered pork cutlets), and Dandadan, which specializes in dumplings with gravy. According to a survey by Tokyo Shoko Research, between December 2007 and December 2010, the number of Kushikatsu Tanaka and Dandadan stores increased from 273 to 317 and from 86 to 127, respectively.

When we visited Kushikatsu Tanaka, which offers a “lunchtime drinking” service, at around 2 p.m. on a Saturday, the restaurant was filled with families. Perhaps due to the fact that all seats are non-smoking, I noticed many families dining with their toddlers in strollers. A father was sipping on a highball while enjoying a bowl of shish-kebabs as a side dish. The “chinchillorin,” in which the amount and price of drinks are determined by the roll of two dice, seems to be gaining popularity.

The shopkeeper says, “Seventy percent of the customers try the chinchillorin, and the unit price (expected value) is higher than a regular order of highballs.

Tori Aristocrat continues to spend money on labor and skewers in the restaurant. Although Tori Aristocrat has an established reputation for the quality of its yakitori, the company is still waiting for its next hit product.
In 2006, Kushikatsu Tanaka decided to make all of its restaurants non-smoking. Despite some controversy at first, it proved effective in attracting families.

Capturing the Demand of One-Drinkers

Dandadan, on the other hand, offers side dishes such as horse-meat sashimi and menma (pickled bamboo shoots), but almost all customers order handmade gyoza (dumplings) filled with gravy. The restaurant has maintained the concept of “drinking beer with gyoza,” and has increased the number of orders for beer, whose consumption is on the decline.

Like kushikatsu and gravy dumplings, what is attracting attention now are izakaya with a single theme and distinctive concept. Customers remember restaurants that leave a lasting impact,” said Nagahama.

This is truly a game of impact! A new chain that has been gaining popularity is “Shinjidai,” which originated in Aichi Prefecture. Their signature item, “Dengushi,” a deep-fried chicken skin skewer, is priced at a mere 50 yen per skewer, and draft beer is 190 yen (both excluding tax), making the high cost of raw materials seem almost insignificant.

Some long-established chains have also succeeded in renewing their operations. The Yoronotaki Group’s “Ichikenme Sakeba” has been attracting a steady stream of customers. Upon entering the store in front of a central Tokyo terminal station, I found it packed with couples and lone drinkers at the “U-shaped” counter, which resembles a popular bar, as well as at tables equipped with electrical outlets. Lemon sours were inexpensive at 209 yen, and meals were mainly around 300 yen. There is no “otoshi” (appetizer), so you can enjoy “senbero” (a Japanese word for “senberero”). The relatively quick delivery of your order makes for a stress-free experience. A closer look at the menu reveals that there are many low-cost deep-fried dishes that are easy to prepare, and fish dishes that can be stored well, such as “vinegared mackerel with ryukyu (pickled mackerel)” and “marinated salmon. Cost-cutting efforts are evident.

Kandaya,” a restaurant operated by Ten Allied, which also operates Tengu Sake Bar, is also very active. Sours start at 209 yen, the same as at Ichiheng Bar, and standing drinking booths are set up, perfect for a “small drink” by yourself. The bar is crowded with young female customers, who enjoy such novelties as potato salad stuffed with green peppers and grilled avocado skewers.

Instead of a sharp decline in banquets of ten people, demand is increasing for small, two to three-person or one-person drinking establishments. The trend toward small izakaya restaurants is becoming more pronounced,” says Sotaro Mitsui, a restaurant consultant.

Sushi izakayas, where customers can drink while eating sashimi and nigiri, are expected to become the new champions of the one-theme izakaya market. Chains such as Yadai Zushi and Sugitama, operated by Sushiro, a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant, are concentrated in front of train stations in residential areas. When you visit Sugitama, you will find sushi being prepared by an itamae (chef) at the counter. The attraction of Sugitama is that you can enjoy authentic nigiri while eating and drinking for around 3,000 yen.

The cost of fresh fish is normally high, and there is a lot of food loss. That is one reason why izakaya restaurants that are trying to survive are pushing meat as their top choice. On the other hand, sushi izakayas like Sugitama are in demand as a valuable “seafood quota. Since Sushiro operates the izakayas, they are probably very good at procuring and managing fish, and they should be able to make a profit by opening large-scale izakayas,” said Yagyu Kyubei, a B-class gourmet food explorer.

A small group of people can enjoy a cozy atmosphere, reasonable prices, and special snacks. The new power structure of the super-expensive liquor store chain reflects a new way of “drinking.

Chicken Skin Skewers for a New Age
Ten “Denden Skewers” for 550 yen

The signature item on the menu is fried chicken skin skewers priced at 55 yen per skewer. The main ingredient for the spice is soybeans, and it contains zero salt. Crispy texture.

Sugitama’s sushi platter
Tokutama” 8 pieces, 1649 yen.

You can enjoy authentic sushi made by an itamae (chef). The sushi is larger than Sushiro’s and the rice is made with balsamic vinegar.
All prices include tax unless otherwise noted.

From the June 2, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Jiji Press

Photo Gallery6 total

Photo Selection

Check out the best photos for you.

Related Articles