How to Make Your Restaurant Survive and Grow, and Invest in a Joint Venture with a Giant Company? Imsab Global Cuisine’s Secrets Revealed

Nov 26, 2021
When pioneering a food business, a lot of us dream of success. Naturally, each business owner and brand uses a different path to get to that point, but a study of every company that has grown and become successful shows that they all have an interesting story for us to learn and adapt to create our own path to success.

Today, MHA is honored by Mr. Theeraphat ‘Bond’ Loetsiriprapha, CEO of Imsab Global Cuisine Co., Ltd., who operates the popular and well-known Japanese restaurant brand Kouen Premium Sushi Buffet as well as several other brands in the network such as Ono Sushi, Yung Khao Hom, Mootuahere and Dà Cuisine.

Recently, there’s been good news that a giant like PTT Oil and Retail Business Co., Ltd., or ‘OR’, has invested up to 192 million baht in a joint venture with Imsab. What’s more interesting, however, is Imsab’s path to success. What made a mega company like OR want to invest in a joint venture with Imsab? In addition, after just getting its wings with a strong ally such as this, what plans does Imsab have for capitalizing its success for us to see?

Obsessed Foodie to Business Owner

           “I started the restaurant business because of my obsession with eating. We began with Yung Khao Hom. I ate at a ‘khao hom’ restaurant on Koh Samui and fell in love with it, so we studied traditional recipes and opened Yung Khao Hom so people could get a taste of it. The restaurant eventually received awards from Michelin Guide for several consecutive years. Moreover, due to our love for Japanese cuisine, we opened the Kouen Sushi Bar in I’m Park Chula because we wanted everyone to be able to eat Japanese food at reasonable prices.

At first, I didn’t have any previous experience working in a restaurant, so I had a lot to learn. For example, at first at Kouen we served only à la carte dishes and the reviews weren’t so great. After analyzing our situation, we realized that our location was in an area with a lot of students, so we switched to a buffet-style service which better meets the needs and lifestyles of this customer group.”
Kouen Sushi Bar, a popular sushi buffet restaurant brand.
Once the Kouen brand got on the right track, it received very good reviews and they were able to open several more branches and the other brands followed, for example, Mootuahere which is all about street food and emphasizes easy-to-eat pork dishes. Ono Sushi is another Japanese brand that specializes in very reasonably-priced sushi and donburi. Finally, there’s Dà Cuisine which specializes in Cantonese cuisine.

Imsab’s Secret to Success

Speaking of their overall success, Mr. Bond revealed that, due to Covid in the past year, the restaurants in the group have been affected and had to adapt quite a bit, especially a brand that was launched at the same time as Covid like Dà Cuisine which opened at Athenee Tower on Wireless Road. Originally, the restaurant’s target group was high-spending customers, including Chinese tourists. When the Covid crisis occurred, there were no tourists and the majority of Thai customers with the spending power includes older people who didn’t dare leave their homes. Therefore, in the future they’ll change the restaurant’s concept to a Cantonese-style hot pot restaurant to access more customer groups.

As for the most notable brand in terms of success, it’s none other than the Kouen Sushi Bar. Other than being the most outstanding restaurant frequented by customers, its success is to to its budget since Kouen’s buffet offers several prices such as 500+ baht, 800+ baht, 1,000+ baht and 1,500+ baht. The advantage of this is that customers can control their spending, while getting the same food quality, service quality and other aspects which require attention to detail every time they eat there.

And even during the crisis, they launched another brand line such as ONO Sushi which is more inexpensively priced to help with the situation. The price starts at 10 baht per dish. In addition, the dishes are more suitable for delivery in order to meet the needs of customers during the difficult Covid crisis and supply them with quality and reasonably priced Japanese food.
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“I think the key to business operations is, if it originated from love and you care for it and try to find solutions to make it a success, I don’t think it’s hard to make it grow. Moreover, the food business is like fashion. You need constant updates and changes. Anything that’s unoriginal will naturally get outdated. That’s why new ideas are so important to this business and that’s why I give a lot of importance to research and development. It’s so I can use the customer feedback to develop new menu items and improve service so that customers can experience something new and revisit our restaurants continuously.”

A Restaurant’s Key to Success: How to Succeed and Survive

  • The flavors must always meet standards. Whatever flavors you serve today, you have to repeat it every day.
  • Product or ingredient quality is key. The reason a lot of people fail at this may be because they make profit the priority, for example, they change the ingredients or food quality slightly to gain more profit. However, they don’t realize that customers decide to buy their food due to the flavors and quality.
  • When you have to choose between raising the prices due to higher ingredient prices or lowering the food quality, be straight with the customers about the necessity of altering food prices to be consistent with the situation. It’s a method that expresses honesty to the customers. When the customers see that the food quality and price are reasonable, they’ll understand and accept it.
  • Service is another essential aspect. Other than great flavors, service quality is another important aspect. If a restaurant has good food and service, customers naturally want to repeat it again and again. Meanwhile restaurants that have good food but bad service will rarely see repeat customers or none at all.
  • Do marketing with several credit card partners and regularly hold campaigns on special occasions to make customers feel special and worthwhile. In addition, it’s a way to return the profit to customers.
  • The Covid crisis taught us that a business should have a contingency fund for no less than six months and you need to learn how to adapt to the situation.
  • Always be prepared to handle situations that can change at any time and adapt quickly.
  •   Do marketing through every social media, including FB, IG, Twitter and Line OA, but, most importantly, always maintain the food quality. This makes customers trust you and spread the word about your restaurant. On the other hand, your storefront cannot be lacking because it’s your image and customers still want to experience the atmosphere of the restaurant at which they’re dining.

Business Soars after Investing with a Giant

The love and dedication in the business in the past came to fruition when a giant such as OR saw their potential and tasked Modulus Venture Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of OR, with a joint venture with Imsab. Currently, there are five brands under their administration, namely, Kouen Premium Buffet, Yung Khao Hom, Mootuahere, Dà Cuisine and ONO Sushi. They invested in 25% of the business at approximately 192 million baht.
            The operational plan for the first phase is to focus on expanding ONO Sushi, a restaurant that serves sushi and easily accessed dishes such as donburi, so that it becomes an option for consumers and travelers who use the services of PTT stations. The first ONO Sushi branch will be opened for business at the Bang Na PTT Station soon. In addition, the goal is to open more branches to cover the entire Bangkok Metropolitan Region. Of course, there’ll be more plans to expand the business and successes in the future. On this subject, Mr. Theeraphat, as the CEO of Imsab commented,
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“I think there are several reasons OR became interested in investing with us. Firstly, our team is equipped and experienced. Secondly, we give importance to our back-end system and had been operating for about 2-3 year prior. Most SMEs aren’t interested in implementing a back-end system or enterprise resource planning system (ERP = an organization management system used to manage resources in order to yield the maximum benefits and is traceable). However, since we previously encountered Covid and had intended to enter the stock market, we had already prepared for this. This made us more prepared than other business and is the main reason that attracted OR’s interest and we were able to deal with them in a short time.”

How to Prepare in Order to Attract a Giant’s Interest So They Invest

  • Do business with love. When you do it with love, you pay attention to every detail and so success and growth soon follows.
  • Give importance to and create a good professional team that is equipped with skilled and experience to build investor confidence.
  • You need a good back-end system that is standard, efficient and traceable, whether it’s an accounting system or ERP system.

 “As for the future, other than opening branches in PTT stations, I think that the current Covid crisis has changed all of our behaviors. People eat and then quickly get up because they don’t want to linger for a long time. In addition, since we may have EV chargers in the future, people will spend more at gas stations. Since OR has the space and we have the ideas and restaurant know how, when you put these two things together, one plus one equals ten.

Furthermore, we might see the syncing of data. For example, PTT has millions of Blue Card members, right? Other than gassing up their cars, Blue Card holders might be able to collect additional points when they eat sushi at Kouen or ONO Sushi. As for the other aspects, we’re still making adjustments to the brands in our group that were affected by Covid. We’ll try to make alterations and improve them, etc. Honestly, I don’t think we’re successful, yet. However, it’s another major step and I want to keep a good eye on the changes we’ll make in the future. I can guarantee that we’ll see more fun ideas.”
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KouenJapanese FoodSushiFood BusinessOno SushiKouen Sushi Barโอโนะ ซูชิโคเอ็นอาหารญี่ปุ่นซูชิธุรกิจอาหาร

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