The technological differences are notable, as well. JINYA Ramen Bar, which offers a more traditional, dine-in experience, didn’t have online ordering at every location prior to the pandemic.
In comparison, bushi is built with QR code ordering and will eventually incorporate self-ordering kiosks, all in an effort to leverage less labor. The idea is that someone would float between the kitchen and front counter instead of standing at the cash register.
“All those things in mind, [Takahashi] just was thinking ahead with the pandemic and everything else, right?” says marketing director Justin Bartek. “We want to make it as easy as possible. Then with our customer groups, they're tied to their phones anyway, the people we’re targeting. So it actually works pretty well.”
Based on executed leases, JINYA Ramen Bar will open 12–15 restaurants in 2022, LaRue says, but aggressive pipelines from some franchisees could add to that total. Currently, the Northeast and Southeast are major targets, in places where Gen Z and millennial age groups “eat, shop, play, and entertain,” as LaRue puts it. Because the concept is able to generate a significant amount of volume in 2,500–3,000 square feet, he adds, landlords are eager to strike deals.
“We're getting pitched new developments with some of the bigger developers in the country,” LaRue says. “That has led to some new opportunities in new markets. But again, we're all over the country, and we don't specifically go out and target certain markets. We follow where the strong operators are, and obviously those who are interested in developing JINYA.”
As for bushi, about five units are planned this year. Think: airports, college campuses, military bases, and food halls. For instance, the bushi location in Glendora is housed in 19,000-square-foot food hall Glendora Public Market, and the Westwood unit is part of a Kitchen United ghost kitchen operation in a Ralphs supermarket.
Even though malls are declining (Coresight Research predicted 25 percent will shut down within five years), LaRue says big developers are still pushing food court spots at the premium, A-rated malls.
Takahashi told QSR that his ultimate goal was to open 100 bushi outlets by 2024. While lofty, the objective is still feasible, LaRue says, because the concept requires minimal capital expenditures and franchisees have the requisite infrastructure to open quickly and efficiently.
“Based off current opportunities that our current franchisees are looking at, in addition to new franchisee growth specific to these nontraditional locations, I think 100 is aggressive. But from a corporate standpoint, we do have the infrastructure to grow with that and to be able to support that,” he says. “I think it's a good target to get close to it. I think we'll still be in a very good position.”