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Kura Sushi goes all in on Taiwan, citing island's COVID response

Japanese conveyor belt chain to open 50 stores in three years after $17m IPO

Kura Sushi plans to open 50 stores in Taiwan within three years. (Photo from the company's Facebook account)

TAIPEI -- Kura Sushi Asia debuted for over-the-counter trading on the Taipei Exchange Thursday, raising about $17 million that will go toward expanding its presence in Taiwan and other parts of Asia.

The local unit of Japanese conveyor belt sushi chain Kura Sushi ended the session at 108 New Taiwan dollars, 96% higher than its offering price.

"Taiwan's response to the coronavirus has been great," Kura Sushi President Kunihiko Tanaka told Nikkei Thursday, explaining why the group is doubling down in the market.

"We will open 50 new locations in Taiwan within the next three years," he said. "We will also make inroads into Southeast Asia, and look again at entering the mainland Chinese market."

The island has had one of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in the world, making it an attractive spot for expansion, said Kentaro Nishikawa, chief of Kura Sushi Asia.

The IPO of Kura Sushi's Taiwanese unit follows the debut of its American counterpart on the Nasdaq market last year.

"We want to keep opening five to 10 restaurant a year on the island, and aim to have 200 locations across Asia," he said.

Since entering Taiwan in 2014, Kura Sushi has grown to 29 locations on the self-ruled island. Japanese rivals Sushiro and Hamazushi operate 19 and 6 restaurants in Taiwan, respectively. The competition is growing, with two new Japanese chains setting up shop since July.

Kura Sushi's prices are about 35% higher in Taiwan than in Japan. Still, sushi has become increasingly popular in Taiwan in recent years. The island is also an attractive investment destination, given its strong pandemic response.

Roughly 4.89 million, or almost one in five, Taiwanese visited Japan in 2019. But the coronavirus has put a stop to most travel this year, driving consumers to seek a taste of Japan at home.

"More people are looking to experience Japanese-style service and eat high-quality sushi in Taiwan," said an industry insider.

Kura Sushi also listed its U.S. unit on the Nasdaq Stock Market in August 2019.

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