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Kura plans more sushi restaurants in Taiwan

Chain's conveyor-belt eateries always seem to be fully booked

A Japan-based chain of KURA SUSHI restaurants will expand into suburban areas of Taiwan.

TAIPEI -- Kura plans to octuple the number of its KURA SUSHI conveyor-belt sushi restaurants in Taiwan to 40 by 2024.

The five KURA SUSHI the company currently operates in the island are located mainly in urban areas. They have proven hugely popular, filling to capacity every day at lunch and dinnertime.

Now Kura plans to move to the burbs, locating its shops along busy streets. The first batch of five new restaurants is scheduled to open in 2017.

Kura opened its first restaurant outside Japan in Taiwan in 2014. The five sushi restaurants in Taiwan are smaller than their Japanese counterparts, with 10% to 30% less seating.

Kura shops in Japan can seat an average of 200 diners.

At the eateries in Taiwan, a plate of sushi costs 40 New Taiwan dollars ($1.24), and a customer spends an average of $12. Revenue at each restaurant is almost the same as that of Japan's Kura restaurants.

Reservations can be made at each of the restaurants via the internet up to two weeks in advance. Even at the which opened more than a year ago, seats are fully booked for lunch and dinner.

Now that it has gained some name recognition on the island, Kura has also become something of a fixture on the job seekers' trail. This has convinced executives that it is time to expand outside of urban centers.

Another factor behind the move to the burbs: Rents are rising almost every year in Taiwan, in tandem with surging land prices. This has made it difficult to focus on urban areas for new restaurant openings.

"Fortunately, we can still make long-term contracts in urban areas," said Kentaro Nishikawa, the president of Kura's Taiwan subsidiary. "But it is easier to do this in suburban areas, and there are many more benefits out there.

Although the Taiwan division did no better than break even in the year ended August, the company expects the eateries to be profitable in current fiscal.

In a sense, Kura is following the same path as two other Japanese companies. Uniqlo, the fast-fashion chain, and Nitori, a cut-rate furniture chain, have opened suburban stores along busy streets in Taiwan. But few Japanese restaurant has yet taken this route.

Nishikawa said managing restaurants that depend on sales of alcoholic beverages is difficult in Taiwan because Taiwanese usually spend little when dining out and do not drink much. He also noted that many Taiwanese customers come in groups and stay for conversation long after they have finished their meals.

Kura will add curry rice using vinegared rice and other dishes to its menus in Taiwan. It will also differentiate the Taiwan restaurants from the Japan chain by offering fresh fish purchased from local markets and cut in the customers' presence. 

Kura also has restaurants in the U.S. and is looking to land in other countries as well.

"We want to open our restaurants in countries where the middle class, not the wealthy, can enjoy conveyor-belt sushi for around 1,000 yen ($8.50)," Nishikawa said.


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