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 have done? Anytime you do something different, you needed to educate your customers, explain that this is not the typical Japanese restaurant with a sushi bar and tempura. This is Kaiseki, a traditional Japanese multi-course meal, and it isn't sexy like sushi.

The other problem is management, they don’t know what Americans know or don’t know. I’m Japanese American and was born here and I didn’t know what a Kaiseki meal was until a year before the restaurant opened. If they hired me, I would have invited the foodies in to explain what Kaiseki and Yuba is and the tradition behind it. There are other things I would do too, but you’d have to hire me first. If I was going to open a business in Hong Kong, guess what, I’m hiring managers from Hong Kong…

These companies spend a lot of money and they’ll figure it out at a high cost. If they only hire someone like me to avoid these expenses, they would save in the long run. If you build it, they will come, doesn’t work in the restaurant business. You have to answer all of the questions first…

Asian companies, CALL ME FIRST!!!

Office: (818) 478-9421


anita said…
Hi Jay,

You are absolutely right. What may work wonderfully in one's home country, doesn't always translate in another. Many American companies had the same problem when they attempted to enter into the Japanese market. They thought since McD's, KFC or Pizza Hut was so popular stateside, they could serve the same cuisine and not explain it. Wrong, many of these establishments lost big money, until they realized that you must know your customers and their palate. The same applies in the reverse. I also agree, that if Asian companies want to be successful here in this region, they should definitely call you!!! You know your stuff, the market and the consumer. :)

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