“Shabu-shabu” may be a phrase many New Yorkers fond of Japanese food know, but even the most devoted connoisseur may not know of Kobe Bussan Group, which operates nearly 700 of Japan’s largest supermarkets and 800 of its restaurants and izakayas. But more Midtown and Brooklyn residents should soon be learning about shabu-shabu, the Japanese dish featuring thinly sliced beef boiled in water named for the onomatopœia derived from the sound emitted when its signature ingredients are stirred in a pot. The opening of a new Shabu Shabu Kobe restaurant and a Japanese supermarket in New York City, and the launch of two more even bigger restaurants in the Big Apple in February and April of 2015 may help ensure that.
Kobe Bussan Group’s first Manhattan foray on 3 W. 36th Street off Herald Square was determined by the nearby location of another Japanese icon. “We admire Uniqlo and they have a store on 5th Avenue,” said Kobe Bussan’s CEO Shoji Numata. “So we’re close to them.” The bright new space with digital heating interfaces had been set to open on September 17, but has been delayed in favor of an October opening due to a temporary application approval setback.
It seems like a minor bump in the road for the company, which has set its sights on Williamsburg for one of its next Shabu Shabu Kobe locations. “We’re still under negotiation, so I can’t talk about the exact location, but I can tell you that it will have a very nice sunset view,” Numata related modestly, considering Bussan’s press materials, which unequivocally boast “The best sunset view from a restaurant in Manhattan” from a spot near the water not far from Bushwick Inlet Park.
But Kobe Bussan’s supermarket play is just as intriguing. Its Wall Street location will be joining Manhattan’s Sunrise Mart and Dainobu groceries with a two-floor, 2,000-square-foot market filled with Japanese products. And it doesn’t seem as though this is the end of Kobe Bussan’s American ambitions.“We’ve seen the quick expansion of McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan offering food at low prices,” explained Shoji Numata, “We’d like to try to do the same thing with Japanese food in America.”
According to Mr. Numata, the U.S. expansion is “more about the internal structure of the company than anything else. It’s no secret. We’ve had success year over year with our regional supermarket business, and with solar power,” and with what they say is the transformation of some 7,000 acres of desert farmland in El Marashda, Qina in Egypt into successful farmland. There were rumors of a secret but potentially Guinness Book of World Records-worthy endeavor in Hokkaido that was whispered about, but the next openly-discussed frontier? America.
But first you need to conquer Americans’ palates, and at the 200-seat, two-floor, 6,100 square-foot Shabu Shabu Kobe location in Midtown, that means a menu featuring reasonably-priced “premium” courses of beef aged in-house ranging from $17 to $29, and a la carte beef from $11 to $19. Of course there are other iconic Japanese specialties including okonomiyaki, tonkatsu, and karage. “We’ve seen the quick expansion of McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan offering food at low prices,” explained Shoji Numata, “We’d like to try to do the same thing with Japanese food in America.”