Ichibanya saw a partnership with Mitsui as a good route into the Indian market, so both sides were interested in doing a deal. In June 2019, we established a joint venture to develop the Indian business, with myself as CEO.
Mitsui set up a project team and invited our Ichibanya counterparts to come to India. We took them around Delhi for a reconnaissance. We visited different malls and showed them the various food options. What you have here is Indian food, rather inauthentic Chinese food, and burgers and fried chicken. There are very few Japanese restaurants; for Indians, Japanese food is sushi and nothing else!
The project team members divided up the tasks according to their area of expertise, but we all worked on pinpointing the most high-footfall locations. Then we put together a business plan.
There are two sides to setting up a restaurant: food-preparation and location. On the food-preparation side, I visited the CoCo Ichibanya restaurant in Hong Kong and was taken behind the scenes there. I was impressed by the speed and efficiency of operations.
Back in India, we met various food companies and got them to make samples for the curry and toppings. The whole project team had fun doing the tasting. We’re all different—vegetarians, non-vegetarians, bread-eaters, rice-eaters—but we worked together to get a consensus. One of the things that makes CoCo Ichibanya so popular is the freedom it gives people to choose different toppings and create their own personalized curry. We wanted to add a small “essence of India” to the menu, so here we are offering paneer [cottage cheese] as a curry topping, for example.
One reason I’m confident about moving into the food industry is that I’ve been cooking twice a day ever since I was a boy. My mum was a schoolteacher and I cooked egg curry for her to give her a break and to get leverage so she would let me go and play table tennis!