The co-owner of Japanese-Latin American fusion brand Sugoi JPN talks to Katherine Price about the brand's new franchise expansion initiative and plans to launch 10 sites in 12 months.
Tell us about Sugoi JPN.
We chose the name very carefully, as we were looking for something that represented our passion and respect for the Japanese culture; its discipline, flavours and, at the same time, the happiness and traditions of our Latin American heritage, as we come from Venezuela.
The word Sugoi is a Japanese superlative – it is an exclamation linked to the positive admiration of a talent or power, traditionally used in Japan to describe something that is wonderful or incredible.
We fused the best of the Latin and Japanese traditions, culture and flavours and created a new street food and delivery concept, NoriTacos. If we combine nori and taco we get a NoriTaco, which is a crispy seaweed tempura shell with Japanese-Latin fusion fillings.
How did you manage to self-fund the brand?
I came to London in August 2015 with £300 and a bag full of CVs to start over again from scratch after losing everything. It was my first time looking for a job as I had always been an entrepreneur. I left my wife and daughter with an uncle in Chile and I found a room in a hostel in Angel. I spent three months there, eating 30p noodles every night and walking to work to save money for my first flat's deposit so my family could join me.
In time I got better positions in the hospitality industry. I eventually saved enough money to open my own business. After three years, here we are, creating jobs and back in business again. It was not easy, but we made it possible, one small step at a time.
It was not easy but we made it possible, one small step at a time
What made you decide to follow the path of rapid franchise expansion during lockdown?
We were in the process of moving out of our kitchen in Bethnal Green because we had secured a partnership with a national department store on Oxford Street and we were planning to take over their rooftop this summer – it was a dream come true for us.
When Covid-19 hit, we ended up without our Bethnal Green kitchen and without the rooftop. It was devastating and, by that time, we could not organise viewings, so finding another kitchen became practically impossible. There was a lot of uncertainty. We knew we had to adapt and quickly change our strategy, so we took a break and analysed everything.
We realised that restaurants were closing or pivoting their business to delivery and takeaway and we had a lightbulb moment. We asked ourselves, ‘why don't we open Sugoi JPN in existing kitchens?' We could run a multi-concept kitchen where entrepreneurs can manage their concept and ours simultaneously in the same venue. We do the training, we give them the right to use our brand, and we teach them our know-how.
It helps other businesses maximise their structure (rent, staff, etc) and it helps us to expand our brand in a professional way at the same time. It was a no-brainer.
How will it work and who have you partnered with?
We have secured partnerships with legal firm the Bench, Simon Taylor, chief executive of the Hospitality Portal, Aristides Silva and RDLB NY.
Firstly, we are focusing on London. Our intention is to open 10 sites across the city and surrounding areas in 12 months, with different trading options, such as takeaway shops, shared kitchens, dark kitchens, etc, with delivery being the driving force.
Our second stage will focus on a master franchise partnership in order to expand our concept into cities outside of the UK, such as Dubai.
How many sites have you launched so far?
We currently have two Sugoi JPN sites open; the first opened in south Wimbledon at the start of August and is working wonderfully – better than we expected. The second opened at the end of August in Palmers Green and has enabled a former Italian restaurant to continue operating as a takeaway and delivery service, a win-win situation.
We are delighted with the reaction. We have received hundreds of proposals that are currently being taken into consideration. However, we are focusing on a small and controlled expansion. We are currently in negotiations to open more Sugoi JPN sites in east London, and there are a couple of opportunities in the central area as well.
Simultaneously we are launching a new concept, inspired by traditional Venezuelan food, called Arepita Sliders. We have adapted the concept to suit customers' needs during Covid-19 and the first kitchen opened on 17 September in Tooting Broadway.
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