America’s culinary community can’t get enough of Japan. We’re beyond eating sushi and slurping ramen; now brands like Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack, Rene Redzepi’s Noma, and Chad Robertson’s Tartine have zeroed in on Tokyo for their newest locations.
Which begs a couple of questions: What does it take to open a restaurant in Japan, and what is dining really like there? OpenTable has offices in Tokyo, so we have unique insight into the country’s restaurant scene and industry trends. Recently we were thrilled to host Yoshitaka Hayashi, Chairman of the restaurant group Wondertable, at OpenTable HQ in San Francisco. His group operates 60 restaurants, which they organize in three segments. The first are what they call “inbound” restaurants imported from overseas, such as the Brazilian Barbacoa, Lawry’s the Prime Rib, and Union Square Tokyo, an offshoot of New York’s Union Square Cafe. The second segment is “outbound,” restaurants created in Japan and franchised to overseas, such as Mo-Mo Paradise, a shabu-sukiyaki hot pot restaurant. Finally, there are the “domestic” brands, created and operated in Japan.
We sat down with Hayashi to talk about what makes dining in Japan unique, his biggest challenges, and what makes a successful concept. Here are 10 things we learned during his visit.