The Japanese quick-service chain Yoshinoya is moving into the fast-casual Asian category with a new concept scheduled to launch in May.
Asiana Grill Yoshinoya departs from the primary chain’s meal-in-a-bowl format. Instead, it will feature an exhibition kitchen, allowing guests to customize their own meals on a plate, as a soup or salad, or on a bun.
Guests can select a protein — steak, white or dark meat chicken, pork, fish, shrimp or tofu — sauces and sides. Dishes can be prepared either teppanyaki style, which is sautéed quickly in a flatiron grill, or yakitori style, which is charbroiled.
The slightly more upscale fast-casual concept will allow the company to expand into new markets outside California without cannibalizing the quick-service Yoshinoya chain, which has 93 locations, primarily in the West, said Manuel Villarreal, executive vice president of the Torrance, Calif.-based Yoshinoya America Inc.
Asiana Grill Yoshinoya will target higher-income customers, but prices will remain under $10. Asiana Grill’s price range will fall roughly $1.50 to $2 more than the average ticket of $8.50 at Yoshinoya, Villarreal said.
The menu at Asiana Grill will also be positioned as healthful and low fat, with a signature brown rice with edamame as an option, as well as udon noodles, grilled vegetables and spring salad mix, he added.
The menu will also include wine and beer, as well as green teas and hot and iced coffee.
The new concept will also offer Yoshinoya’s signature Beef Bowl, a top seller at the primary chain.
Take a look at Asiana Grill’s menu wall; story continues below
Asiana Grill’s locations will be slightly larger than Yoshinoya’s, targeting a 2,500-square-foot footprint, compared with Yoshinoya’s typical 1,800 square feet.
The first Asiana Grill restaurant is scheduled to debut in Fullerton, Calif., near a California State University campus there.
The company plans to open two more units in 2012, including one near University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and a third in Manhattan Beach, Calif.
By 2013, the company expects to start franchising the brand, Villarreal said.
Yoshinoya America Inc. is the U.S. arm of a foodservice company based in Japan, which operates or franchises 1,600 Yoshinoya restaurants globally.
The move into the Asian fast-casual segment could pit Yoshinoya against Chipotle Mexican Grill, which last year launched Shophouse Southeast Asian Kitchen in Washington, D.C., a concept the company is planning to grow slowly.
Other brands are also hoping to capture the market. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Inc. earlier this year said it would launch a new lower-priced Asian Market extension of its fast-casual Pei Wei Asian Diner brand. And the new Asian Box concept opened in Palo Alto, Calif., last month.