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“It’s ‘adaptation’ rather than ‘reinvention’ for restaurants”
Monday, 09 November, 2020, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Curry House CoCo Ichibanya was founded in 1978 by Tokuji Munetsugu and his wife Naomi in Aichi Prefecture, Japan. The restaurant quickly gained popularity for its tantalising curry and rice preparation. Being the biggest chain of restaurants world over, it was only a matter of time before the restaurant would set up an outlet in India. Prasenjit Adhikari, CEO, Ichibanya India, shares his views on the restaurant’s entry into the Indian restaurant scene, coping with Covid-19 crisis and more in an email Interview with Kimberley Fernandes. Excerpts:

How has the competitive landscape of the food and beverage industry influenced your entry into the Indian market during Covid-19?
We have been considering our entry into India for a number of years and we were drawn to India as one of the world’s largest food and beverage markets. While the Covid-19 situation presents us with challenges, we have not fundamentally changed our outlook. Presenting a unique offering like Curry House CoCo Ichibanya, we believe we can carve out our own niche in this market where we see good long-term prospects.

How do you anticipate the future trend of Japanese cuisine and styled restaurants in India?
We believe Indian diners, especially young diners, are ready to embrace more variety and choice. People are becoming more health-conscious and Japanese cuisine is considered to be a healthy option. 

When we started our market research, we went on a reconnaissance mission visiting different malls in Delhi to explore food options. The main choices were Indian food, Chinese food, burgers, pizza and fried chicken, but there was not much in the way of Japanese food, and what we did find tended to be limited to sushi.

We could see there was not only room for more Japanese restaurants, but for different types of cuisine such as Japanese curry, which is one of the most popular dishes enjoyed in Japan today. 

Do you foresee restaurants reinventing themselves in the industry in light of the current scenario? Elaborate.
We think it’s more a case of ‘adaptation’ rather than ‘reinvention’ for restaurant owners.

While Covid-19 has posed some challenges for us, setting back the opening of our first restaurant and requiring us to restrict seating numbers to comply with safe distancing measures, so far we are adapting well.
We have introduced a ‘paperless’ menu system providing access to our menu through QR codes. We are also preparing to offer home delivery services, and we anticipate this will become a bigger part of our sales than first expected.

What kind of action plan do you have in place for sourcing raw materials, due to certain restrictions brought about by Covid-19?
With the exception of our curry sauce, which we import directly from Japan, all other produce is sourced locally. I’m pleased to say that we have not faced any significant difficulties so far.

Do you feel that the lack of beef and pork on the menu would stymie the experience of an authentic Japanese curry house? Why?
The lack of beef and pork in the menu does not affect the authenticity. The fun part of CoCo Ichibanya is that you get to make your own curry and we have many of the same menu items that we offer in Japan. Diners can choose from a variety of vegetables, chicken, seafood, and mutton keema curries served with Japanese sticky rice to maintain authenticity. Add to that your favourite toppings such as cheese croquette, chicken or shrimp cutlet, fried fish, and Japanese-style fried shrimp. Then you get to choose how spicy you want your curry from a level of 1 to 10. The CoCo Ichibanya experience that everyone enjoys in Japan is replicated in full here in India.

Any plans on flavour infusions to cater to the Indian palate?
We have added a small ‘essence of India’ to the menu. We are pleased to offer mutton keema curry, paneer as a topping, and paratha as a side dish.  
What kind of feedback are you receiving from Japanese expatriates who patronise the restaurant?
Our Japanese expatriate customers, many of whom have been eagerly waiting to get their fix of CoCo Ichibanya tell us it is the same taste that they enjoy in Japan. Our curry sauce and authentic Japanese rice passes the test! The kids menu that offers just the right portions, a milder curry, and a fun presentation has also been a real hit.
What kind of footfall are you expecting post-pandemic?
In all honesty it’s hard to predict. For the foreseeable future during this ‘new normal’ we hope to serve upwards of 180 customers a day. The reason we chose DLF Cyber Hub was to target young office workers in their 30s as our target demographic.  When workers start to return to their offices we hope to see a progressive uptick in patronage.

How has your marketing mix been affected in light of the current situation faced by the industry?
Given our target demographic, our marketing strategy is focussed on social media and influencer marketing. There is no change to our strategy and with the rise of digital during Covid-19 we think we made the right choice to go all digital from the beginning.

How has corona virus influenced your relationship with your distribution network? Any plans on tie-ups with third-party food delivery platforms?
The only setback we have faced is with our own in-store delivery service, which was focussed on serving office workers within the immediate vicinity of DLF Cyber Hub, who are yet to return to their offices.  To reach more customers we will tie-up with third-party operators Zomato and Swiggy.
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