Overseas restaurant chains testing
the waters for European expansion typically open an outlet or
two in London, Paris or perhaps somewhere in Germany. Japanese
noodle purveyor Toridoll Corp. (3397) chose Moscow.
Since February, growing numbers of time-pressed Muscovites
weary of American burger joints have opted instead for
Toridoll’s Marukame restaurants. There, they can pick up bowls
of udon or rice topped with meat, seafood, vegetables or
chicken, and green tea or juice, for 400 rubles ($12) and up.
Toridoll, owner of Japan’s biggest chain of noodle
restaurants, sees Russia as the gateway for a major expansion
into Europe. The Kobe-based company settled on Moscow as its
European beachhead because there’s a growing middle class, and
with 10.5 million people it’s the biggest city in the region.
“Japan’s market is getting saturated,” said Tetsuo
Kuzunishi, overseas business chief for Toridoll, 10 percent
owned by mutual fund giant Fidelity Investments. “We expect
huge markets outside Japan and are shifting our investment
resources from the domestic market.”
The company has four branches in Moscow, with two more in
the works and several planned for St. Petersburg. Next spring,
Toridoll plans to open its first London restaurant.
Outside Japan, Toridoll has 45 outlets: in Hawaii, across
Asia and Australia, and now Russia. By 2016, it expects 400
branches overseas. At home, where Toridoll has almost 800
restaurants, it plans to slow growth to about 25 openings a year
from roughly 100.
Expansion abroad is “a good strategy” if Toridoll can
convince enough Europeans to sample its food, said Mikihiko Yamato, deputy head of research at JI Asia in Tokyo. “They have
had an edge with Japanese consumers,” Yamato said. “Now it’s a
matter of adjusting to local tastes.”
Toridoll shares have recovered 15 percent since closing at a
2013 low of 786 yen in Tokyo on Nov. 8 after the company cut its
estimate of net income for the year ending next March by 91
percent, to 300 million yen ($3 million). The stock is still 36
percent off an April high and the company has a market
capitalization of just under $350 million.
“There’s still a long way ahead until their overseas
business becomes successful,” said Mitsushige Akino, executive
director at Ichiyoshi Asset Management Co. in Tokyo. “But it’s
worth trying to go abroad.”
While Marukame is entering an increasingly crowded fast-food market in Russia — with Burger King Worldwide Inc. (BKW), Subway
Restaurants, Pizza Hut, KFC (YUM), Wendy’s Co., and McDonalds Corp.
all aiming to woo diners — the number of outlets remains low by
Russia has just one restaurant per 930 inhabitants, versus
one per 150 in the U.S. and one per 300 in Europe,
according to researcher Business Analytica.
Toridoll’s first “Marugame Seimen” restaurant, offering
thick, chewy noodles called “Sanuki Udon,” opened in the
western Japanese city of Kakogawa in 2000. For Moscow and most
of its expansion outside of Asia, Toridoll is using the one-word
At all its restaurants, customers pick up their food on
trays in front of an open kitchen, where cooks make the noodles
and douse them in vats of boiling water.
The first Moscow branch, near the Tretyakov Gallery, opened
in February and has attracted some 1,000 diners daily, almost
double the company’s forecast. To avoid long queues, the
restaurant doesn’t sell beer because customers who drink alcohol
tend to linger, Toridoll says.
In the other three branches, 440-centiliter cans of brew
from Japan’s Asahi are on sale for 150 rubles ($4.60), as well
as beer snacks like edamame.
The menu makes some nods to Russian tastes. Unlike in
Japan, where noodle restaurants typically don’t serve sushi,
Marukame offers sushi rolls similar to those found in the 54
outlets of local Japanese-themed chain Planeta Sushi and many
other restaurants in Moscow. There are more meat dishes, and an
additional selection of rice with pork or chicken to accommodate
Muscovites who may eat a rice course in addition to noodle broth
Unlike in Japan, you can’t get cold udon or omusubi — rice
balls made with dried seaweed and fatty salmon, cod roe, leaf
mustard or plum.
While young people, the bulk of Marukame’s customers, are
enthusiastic, some older Russians are less enamored of the
simple dining concept.
“It’s nothing special, just noodles and meat,” Lyudmila
Larina said while dining at Marukame with her daughter after a
“Mum, you just don’t get it,” replied daughter Daria, a
regular at the chain. “This is real Japanese food!”
Ingredients such as soy sauce, dried seaweed and wasabi are
imported from Japan. The rice is grown under Japanese
supervision in Italy. Flour, the bulkiest ingredient for a
noodle restaurant, comes from Russia to keep costs low.
Toridoll is planning up to 30 branches in the U.K. by 2019.
If the business is successful there, which should be apparent
within a year, it will consider expansion across Europe,
according to Kuzunishi.
While the offerings will be similar to those in Moscow,
“our menu creators are testing some new items for London,” and
other European countries will have their own adaptations,
Kuzunishi said. Details, though, are “still confidential.”
To contact the reporters on this story:
Henry Meyer in Moscow at
Yuki Yamaguchi in Tokyo at
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Balazs Penz at
Stephanie Wong at
A Marukame Restaurant Stands in Moscow
Koga Mutsumi via Bloomberg
A Marukame restaurant, owned by Toridoll Corp., stands in Moscow. Toridoll, owner of Japan’s biggest chain of noodle restaurants, sees Russia as the gateway for a major expansion into Europe.
A Marukame restaurant, owned by Toridoll Corp., stands in Moscow. Toridoll, owner of Japan’s biggest chain of noodle restaurants, sees Russia as the gateway for a major expansion into Europe. Photographer: Koga Mutsumi via Bloomberg
Marukame Restaurant in Moscow
Koga Mutsumi via Bloomberg
Dishes stand in the kitchen of a Marukame restaurant, owned by Toridoll Corp., in Moscow.
Dishes stand in the kitchen of a Marukame restaurant, owned by Toridoll Corp., in Moscow. Photographer: Koga Mutsumi via Bloomberg