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Showing posts from 2009

August Vacation Over

Thank you for your messages and notes. I can't believe that today is the last day of August and I haven't posted anything lately. I've been working on a couple of projects that has taken most of my time and a two week visit from my twin nieces. So, I've been busy shaping these projects and being a busy uncle. I hope to have something to announce by September. All I'll say is that I'm very excited and have my fingers crossed that they'll happen soon.

Thank you again for your patience and look forward to the fall and more posting.

Mahalo!

Korean Food, The Next Big Explosion?

I LOVE Korean food, there's more to it than just Korean BBQ...

About 5 years ago, my business partner and I were approached by a club owner at the beach. His club/lounge went through a few changes and was trying to find a concept that would work. They tried a lot of things and now wanted to try adding Asian food to their menu. We suggested a few things and one of them was Baja style tacos, but with Korean marinated beef. The owner wasn’t too into Korean tacos and mentioned that twenty year olds wouldn’t understand it and wasn’t going to work. We ended up not working with him.

Fast forward 5 years ahead and Kogi BBQ is doing the same exact thing, Korean short rib tacos, kim chee quesadillas, etc. I’m very happy for the Kogi team and glad that they’re succeeding. Because of this, I knew that we were way ahead of our time with the Korean style tacos. Even Baja Fresh is trying their version of a Korean taco and burrito. I wish that club was still open so I could tell the owner that he c…

Lost in Translation: Part II

I often ask myself, why do most Asian restaurants FAIL?

As mentioned in past postings, I've had discussions with many Asian food service companies wanting to come to the US and/or sell to Americans. Americans want Asian products and Asian compaines want to sell to Americans. The problem is that Asian companies don't know how to sell to this target audience and Americans don't know what and who to buy from. A consumer goes home with something they don't understand and Asian companies wondering why Americans don't buy, it's "Lost in Translation."

What these companies don't get is that they need a bridge to gap between the seller and the buyer.These companies all want to serve Asian food to Americans and grow their distribution here. With a large Asian community and Americans hungry for Asian food, how hard can it be? They all think that it's just that easy. What they don't "GET" is who they're selling to and how to get the info…

Restaurant Marketing Tips

I had a late night conversation with two restaurant owners. They’re trying to figure out how to promote their restaurants in a changing economy. I said that creativity and thinking outside of the box is necessary to survive in these tough times.

They didn’t seem to have a promotion plan, so I gave them some ideas. Right now, everyone is looking for value. Have you noticed the “value meal” commercials on TV? Jack-in-the Box has a $2.99 value meal and KFC is promoting a $5 one. Each restaurant and menu is different, so you need to select your items carefully; it also needs to make sense to the customer.

Social Media is a great way to promote your promotions and do special things for followers. Zippy’s in Hawaii gives special coupons for their fans on Facebook and The Counter has special deals for their Twitter followers at specific locations. This is an excellent marketing tool, but it needs to make sense for your customers. People like to feel special, so make them special for being a fa…

Mom and Pops Using Social Media

I was reading the New York Times last night about small businesses using social media to promote their product or service. Social media is a great way to connect with people, as they get to know you and your business. Consumers buy from people they know and trust. It’s a FREE way to promote your business.

I know there are a lot of people who don’t get Twitter. I always hear that it doesn’t work, I got bored, and I don’t care what someone is doing now. It’s funny because when we call someone, isn’t one of the first questions, “what are you doing?” Twitter is different for everyone, but I always say if you’re bored, you aren’t following interesting people. I use it for information sharing and have asked many questions. My followers have given me great information or direct me to websites to answer questions that I have, it’s been a valuable resource.

I’ve always been a cheerleader for small businesses, as they’re the backbone of this country. During these tough times, it’s a way…

Martha Stewart Collection: What Happened?

I went through the Housewares Department at Macy’s yesterday. In another life, I was Product Manager for a kitchen gadget company and worked on a few Martha Stewart Collection products for her team. Macy’s purchased a few items from us and saw first hand that the team was doing a great job building the brand.

It’s been almost 2 years since I last strolled through Macy’s housewares and was SHOCKED to see the low quality items that were under the Martha Stewart Collection. When I worked with them, they were very brand conscious and wouldn’t put her logo on something perceived as low quality. To me the Martha Stewart Collection represented a “Collection” in matching colors and quality products. The item colors were all over the place and not inline with the Martha Stewart colors that I was familiar with or at least when I was working with them. Some of the products that I saw looked like one that you’d find at a discount store and not Macy’s. Has Macy’s changed that much in 2 year…

Don't Mess with Success...

I was at the mall during lunch today. While I was there, I noticed that a coffee/juice kiosk was closed and everything was gone, except for the sign. In February, I stopped by and got a fruit smoothie. This kiosk always had about 2-3 people waiting in line, I remember this because I was trying to figure out why it was so popular? They had two 20 year olds working behind the counter, they were taking care of the customers and getting the orders out, the smoothie wasn’t bad either.

In May, I remember walking by and seeing three older women working behind the counter. Gone were the freshly baked cookies, rice crispy treats, etc. and in place were all packaged snack items. The kiosk was now cluttered with every packaged snack item you could think of, not sure if the customers knew where to order. These women had boxes everywhere and were trying to find places to add more snack items on the counters. I could tell they had no experience taking care of customers, as they made the lon…

So You Took My Idea...

The restaurant business is very competitive and everyone is looking for the next hot concept. What they should be doing is improving their own food service and having something worth ordering. A few weeks ago, I heard that Baja Fresh was serving Korean BBQ Tacos at their new concept store in South Irvine. I read that the burritos and tacos were different from Kogi Korean BBQ Tacos (http://www.kogibbq.com/) but thought they were working together. This week, I found out that the two aren't working together. Is Baja Fresh is doing fusion food now? I guess I'm confused as it doesn't fit their Mexican menu. Baja Fresh has taken Korean beef and chicken and put them on their menu calling it "Baja Kogi." This week there was talk that Baja Fresh used the "Kogi" name and it's trademarked and has since changed to "Baja Gogi". Also, I thought their new look reminded me of Chipotle Mexican Grill. I get it, but does it confuse the consumer?

Examples o…

Upscale Restaurants: ACT IV - The Tragedy

It’s been awhile since I’ve driven around town for no apparent reason. Last week, I drove around to see the current restaurant landscape in Beverly Hills. I went into one restaurant and the manager was telling me about the restaurant closures in the area. It’s very sad.

Warning: Another rant from me about restaurant management…

An upscale restaurant on Restaurant Row was sold after 2 years in business, the company that built it spent about $18 million and it seemed like 5 years to build the building. Don't get me wrong, it's a beautiful building, but 5 years? They didn't know what they were doing and had problems with permits, staff, etc. When it finally opened, it was a total mess, the management didn’t know the customers, the servers didn’t know about the food, operation problems, and it went on and on. I’m not sure what the PR agency did or didn’t do, but there wasn’t a SPLASH for the opening. PR people love having something to promote, but this restaurant couldn’t delive…

Remember to Support Local Businesses!

Last week, I went to the post office and had to park around the corner. I walked by a fish & chips place that had been in business for 20 years. They were closed and had a sign thanking their loyal customers for 20 years of patronage. It’s sad to see places like this close due to the economy.

I always remind people to support local businesses because in a tough economy, these are the first ones to go. Sure, I like the prices and selection at the big box retailers, but remember that small businesses are the backbone of this country. If it wasn’t for the independent retailer, you might never find that hard to find item or someone to repair the broken clock over the fireplace. Real estate on store shelves are very expensive and retailers will only carry products that sell at a certain threshold, just ask any CPG company.

If we don’t support local restaurants, get used to eating at the chain restaurants. So many of them are closing. Now I admit, some of them had to close due to…

Who's the Customer?

I work with a lot of Asian companies who want to sell to “Americans.” I figure that’s why they’re doing business in the US. In the last two weeks, I’ve talked to or have been contacted regarding marketing projects. My first question is who do you want to sell to? 9 times out of 10 the answer is Americans. Then I’m the one you want to talk to! The next question they ask is, "do you speak Vietnamese, Japanese, Mandarin, etc.?" I answer "No." The conversation/interview usually pauses here. When I mention "I thought you wanted to sell to Americans and I understand Asian products & culture, and a marketing expert all in one", I get a funny look on their faces or no answer over the phone. I'm not the typical Asian.

I understand that they want to hire someone that “Fits” on the team, understands the customs, culture, and is an easy addition to your company. But business is business and I thought they want to grow the business in the US. Why hire someone w…

Final Call...

Within a week, I’ve learned that six restaurants have closed or will be closing and one that was sold at a loss. The economy has hit all of us really hard, including those in the restaurant industry. It doesn’t matter what type of cuisine, fast casual or upscale, all restaurants are having a difficult time. I cringe when I’m watching a morning show or the news and someone is saying “don’t go out, stay home and eat.” I’m all about saving money and consumers need to save money by eating at home these days. Don't forget about the local restaurants in your area, they might not be there when the economy improves.

Consumers are looking for value right now and probably for the future too. Local restaurants should take clues from the chain restaurants and offer value added meals. McDonalds has been successful with their value meal promotions and Subway has a $5 foot long sandwich promotion too.

Hey Restaurant Owners! Take a clue from the big boys and start offering VALUE to your customers, …

Sustainable Seafood

Last week I was listening to the World Ocean Day Celebration Webcast from the Monterey Bay Aquarium with Julie Packard and Alton Brown. I’ve been a fan of Alton Brown and of the Monterey Bay Aquarium for years and truly enjoyed this webcast. Now that they’ve taken on the sustainable seafood issue, I’m glad that they’re one of many who are making consumers aware of the current situation.

As a sushi evangelist, I’m always being asked about my thoughts about the seafood supply. It’s been almost 2 years since I’ve had Blue Fin Tuna (BFT) and it was Kindai tuna, the first tuna ever raised in captivity. It’s an expensive alternative and not available in many places. Why is BFT popular? Over the years, Japanese chefs have promoted premium items to their customers, such as the BFT red meat or the Toro – the fatty belly. They’ve educated their customers about toro and charged a premium price too, rather than other fish served with an exotic sauce. Taking a fish that needs to be marinated before…

Restaurant Industry Wedding

Last night, I went to a wedding for a chef that I known for awhile, we actually went to the same high school. OK, so I went 15 years of so before him. I met Bobby when he was a culinary student and I was teaching Japanese cuisine. He’s a very creative chef, but understands food service and the need to fit within the kitchen operation and cost structure. I called him for one of my earliest projects and he came through with flying colors. When someone like Bobby tells me that he won’t let me down, I knew he was the right person to call. I only wish that there are more food people like Bobby.

So last night he married his beautiful bride Sophia in a festive setting surrounded by family and friends. For me, it was more of a reunion to see industry people that I haven’t seen in awhile. We all talked about the same thing, increasing revenue and surviving during this tough economic time. But last night, it was all about Bobby and Sophia. They were gracious in thanking their guests fo…

LOST and Found: Management LOST!

I had dinner at a restaurant that I really wasn’t too jazzed about going. The reviews were not very good and didn't seem that they had a signature dish that everyone was talking about. I usually take a new restaurant reviews with a grain of salt, but this company has 3 restaurants. I went with a couple of people who really wanted to go, still to this day I don’t know why.

We arrived to an empty restaurant, they spent a lot of money on the interior and the menu was really hard to figure out. Not that it was hard to read, it just didn’t make much sense and I didn’t get the feeling that our server felt confident in knowing the menu either. We ordered the sampler platter to try a few of the appetizers, everything was really salty. When the server asked how everything was, I mentioned that the potatoes were really salty. He told me that they’re supposed to be like that. OK, I like salt, but even for me to say this is salty. Our next couple of dishes came and were uneventful. I guess the…

Lost in Translation

I work with Asian food companies who want to come to the U.S. and set-up business. They’re very successful at home, but when they come here, most fail. In my opinion, these companies fail for many reasons, one of them is “Lost in Translation.” Somewhere along the way, it doesn’t translate properly. This causes headaches for the foreign nationals at the U.S. office.

Here’s an example about a Japanese Yuba and Tofu restaurant. This company buys a building and builds a beautiful restaurant in Beverly Hills. They hired a PR agency to promote the restaurant and the opening. The restaurant received very average reviews and customer comments. I met a cook who worked there and ask him how many people come in and ask to sit at the sushi bar? The restaurant didn’t have a sushi bar and his response was, “How did you know, been to the restaurant?” The PR agency didn’t know the food or how to explain what Yuba is or the Kaiseki style of dining. The restaurant closed within a year.

What should they h…

Sticking to What You Do Best...

Last week, I was invited to celebrate National Hamburger Day at The Counter in Studio City. I had been to The Counter before, but today was special and met a fellow tweeter who was a first timer. The menu is easy to follow and you actually build your own burger, well at least on paper. First you select the protein, then the cheese, other various toppings, a side sauce, and last is the type of bun you want. If you’re having a hard time deciding, don’t worry, they have signature burgers and sandwiches to choose from. Too many choices make me crazy sometimes.

I get so confused when I see other restaurants trying to be everything to everyone. The food at these restaurants are usually horrible and thus end up closing. Would you be surprised if the pizza at a seafood restaurant wasn’t good? Doesn’t make sense to me. Attention Restaurant Owners: Pick something and do it really really well. In-n-Out hasn’t added anything to their menu in years and they’re still in business and GROWING!

Being in…

Going, Going...

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading a Los Angeles Times article about a pho restaurant. Pho (pronounced fuh) is Vietnamese rice noodle soup which I really like. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a restaurant review, it was about a family that bought a pho restaurant and they’re having a tough time surviving. At first I stopped reading it, since it wasn't a review. But since I'm in the business of helping restaurants, I ended up reading the entire article.

The family spent a lot of money on this small restaurant and is located in an area that has 10 other pho restaurants. This doesn’t add up in my mind, but then again I don’t have the passion to make Pho. After the purchase was completed and the former owner left the business and most of the customers left too. Since a lot of them were his friends and he wasn’t there anymore, why go? Boy, this was a triple whamie.

With this said and as someone who hates to see small restaurants close, I tried to get the word out and help this place th…

Lee's Got Me Waiting...

I love Lee’s Sandwiches and have been a fan for many years. I often visit the Rosemead location, this is a fairly new building with an ice cream counter, steam table for hot items, baked goods, etc. Lee’s Sandwiches is a multi-unit quick service company that specializes in Vietnamese sandwiches that bakes fresh baguettes and makes great sandwiches, in addition to other items. They have over 35 locations in 4 states.

I usually go in early morning or late afternoon when the lines are short. This week, I went during lunch and ended up in a very long line, about 8 people. As I’m watching the cashier walk away from the register with each customer, I realized that the store layout is not set-up efficiently. One of the keys to retail success for sandwich places is to first have the customer order and collect payment first and then make the sandwich.

Lee’s does this, but where they lack the efficiency is after a customer orders they pass by the ice cream counter and steam table. If they want so…

The Confusion of Japanese Restaurants

Last weekend, I read an article from The Bulletin by John Gottberg Anderson called “Teppanyaki cooking at Shoji’s.” This is a Benihana type restaurant where the grill cooking is the entertainment. For John and his party, it wasn’t a good experience.

For me, John’s review was a typical one. Arrived at the restaurant at 6 pm, the place wasn’t crowded, but had to wait in the bar for 15 minutes. Seated at the table, but no drink order taken, wait another 15 minutes, etc. If you don’t care to get your customers seated with drinks right away, it’s downhill from here. During this visit, John and his party didn’t try the sushi, so they went back a week later just for sushi. He’s a better man then me, I would’ve never gone back.

As a Japanese American and as a chef, I’m saddened about the current state of Japanese restaurants. Many owners are retiring and selling their restaurants to people who have no experience in the restaurant industry or think they know the cuisine. Everyo…

What Were You Thinking?

Last week, I was at an upscale restaurant having dinner. The restaurant had just opened for dinner service and a guy comes in and asks for the manager. He introduces himself as a “Marketer” and was at the restaurant to introduce his client’s product and started his pitch. This guy struck out on 3 pitches. As someone in the restaurant biz, you don’t come in during dinner service to “pitch” a product, Strike 1. Based on his presentation, it appeared that he had no idea what the restaurant concept was, who the clients were, or anything about the restaurant business, Strike 2. The funny thing was that he didn’t know much about the product either, the only information he has was a product sample, Strike 3. At this point, he tried to throw around buzz words, like he was in the industry. But when you don’t believe in what you’re saying, it sounds even worse. Hit the Showers, You’re Done!

Just because you’re a promoter in the entertainment or fashion industry (as an example), doesn’t mean that…

New Era in Consumer Marketing

When was the last time you flipped through the Yellowpages looking for a service or scanned the newspaper for a coupon? These days a lot of us rely on word of mouth marketing or recommendations. Are paper coupons a way of the past?

With advertising budgets being slashed, how many of retailers can advertise in weekly mailers, coupon packets, and print media? How many consumers these days go through these types of media to find deals?

I discussed this with a client this morning, he was asking what the impact of social media was on businesses like his? "It's HUGE!", I replied. Small businesses need to figure out a strategy that works for them and then to take the time to set it up. Many people think it's too time consuming to set-up something. I'll admit that the set-up will take awhile to get it the way you want it, but once set-up, it takes only a few minutes - just like checking email. Listen to the comments, wants and needs of the consumers.

I've seen a coup…

Doesn't Service Matter?

I work in the restaurant industry and have been to some horrible kitchens and dining rooms. Not that they're really dirty or need new equipment, although I've seen some pretty bad places, but that they need to be taken care of. Same with the customers who come in to eat, they need to be taken care of too.

Service starts with a smile, a couple of recommendations from the menu or daily specials, and takes a drink order. Did the server suggest to save room for dessert? Was the water glasses refilled? In California, we have to watch our water usage, so servers should really ask first. If a first timer, explain what the restaurant's speciality is or a "Must Try" item. How many times have you been to a place and then afterwards someone asks you if you had the ____. You reply, "Oh, I didn't know that was their speciality."

A year ago, I was in a small restaurant for lunch. It was my first time and I asked the server what she recommended? She answered with …