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Spreading the joy of eating Yoshinoya

WITH a new partnership comes a new look, but the taste remains the same for Yoshinoya in the Philippines.

The Jollibee Group recently formed a joint venture with Yoshinoya International Philippines, Inc. to establish Yoshinoya Jollibee Foods, Inc. Previously, the Japanese beef bowl brand operated in the country with a partnership with the Century Pacific group. “We took over in 2021, last November,” said Ned Bandojo, Business Development Head of Jollibee Group Foreign Franchised Brands, in an interview with BusinessWorld during the reopening of the brand’s Glorietta store on Aug. 18.

The Japanese brand is one of the oldest food chains in the world, beginning in 1899 when it was founded in Tokyo. In the 1970s, it opened its first branches in the United States, kicking off its worldwide expansion, with 2,000 locations spread across Japan, the US, China, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia. It’s primarily known for its beef and onions dish served over rice (called gyudon), and its relatively affordable price in Japan has made it “an informal measure of consumer prices,” according to a Reuters article.

“The objective really is to stay as close as possible to the Japanese experience,” said Mr. Bandojo about transporting Yoshinoya here. “The proposition really, is an authentic Japanese experience,” he said, pointing to the renovated, much brighter branch. “When you say ‘Japanese experience,’ it doesn’t relate to food only, but also to the environment and ambience,” he said. “Of course, the mainstays, like the gyudon, it stays. That’s the bestseller.”

We took a taste of this gyudon, and for the price of P199 (this variant had both a soft-boiled egg and green onions; the bowl with just the sauteed beef and onions over rice costs P169), one can see the value for money: it’s filling and it sticks to the gut — and frankly, it feels like a healthier option than other offerings from other restaurants in that price range.

The Chicken Karaage (fried chicken) was noisily crispy on the outside and was perfectly soft on the inside; while the P199 tempura was comparable in quality to those in more formal restaurants, and was generous with its shrimp.

“It’s a perfect marriage,” said Mr. Bandojo. “What Yoshinoya brings into the marriage is good food and a good experience. What Jollibee brings is our expertise in operating in the local market.”

Jollibee has gone on a franchising binge these past few years. According to a statement, it has six franchised brands (Burger King, Panda Express, PHO24, and Yoshinoya in the Philippines; Dunkin’ and Tim Ho Wan in certain territories in China); 80% ownership of The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf; 60% ownership in the SuperFoods Group that owns Highlands Coffee and PHO24; and 51% ownership of Milksha, a popular Taiwanese bubble tea brand. Not to mention that it has several of its own homegrown brands, namely: Jollibee itself, Chowking, Greenwich, Red Ribbon, Mang Inasal, Yonghe King, Hong Zhuang Yuan, and Smashburger. It operates in 34 countries, with over 6,200 stores globally with branches in the Philippines, the US, Canada, China, the UK, Italy, Spain, Vietnam, Brunei, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Indonesia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Panama, Malaysia, South Korea, India, and Australia.

The Jollibee Group, through its subsidiary Jollibee Worldwide Pte. Ltd. (JWPL), has a 90% participating interest in Titan Dining LP, a private equity fund that ultimately owns the Tim Ho Wan brand. It also has a joint venture with the THW Group to open and operate THW restaurants in Mainland China. The Jollibee Group also has a business venture with award-winning chef Rick Bayless for Tortazo, a Mexican fast-casual restaurant business in the United States.

Asked about Jollibee’s strengths as a franchiser, Mr. Bandojo said, “We are the experts in operating restaurants in the Philippines. The operations of Jollibee are end-to-end. We have a commissary, so from the start of production, we have expertise already. In between, the logistics and everything, all the way [until] you go into a store, Jollibee has expertise in that.”

So much so that the company plans to expand Yoshinoya’s store numbers from the previous five to 50. Asked about their confidence in expanding the brand, he said, “You’ve tasted the food; you tell me.”

“If you go back to the mission of Jollibee, [it is] spreading the joy of eating to everyone,” he said. “You will not be able to do that if you don’t have 50 stores.” — Joseph L. Garcia

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