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Edo Japan – Celebrating 45 Years

Edo Japan – Celebrating 45 Years

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Photos by Rebecca Hardcastle

When people think of Calgary cuisine in the 1970s, they likely envision Tbones over teriyaki. This only makes the introduction of Edo Japan that much more significant. The first location was opened in a Calgary mall food court in 1979 by Reverend Susumu Ikuta, a Buddhist minister with two passions: bringing Japanese cuisine to the West and supporting his Buddhist community through a successful franchising enterprise. He could never have imagined that 45 years later, this kiosk would be joined by another 200 locations across the country.

In a few short years he expanded into Edmonton and by 1986 he was offering business opportunities through Edo Japan franchises. Reverend Ikuta created a winning model of fresh food prepared fast, yet expanding the business necessitated expertise beyond his current skillset prompting him to seek outside assistance.

“As Reverend Ikuta navigated the quick service restaurant landscape, he recognized the importance of partnering with a seasoned restaurant operator. In 1999, he hired Tom Donaldson,” says Dave Minnett, president and CEO of Edo Japan. “Tom came in as president to bring in operational disciplines and strengthen the concept making it more profitable for franchisees and for expansion.”

And expand it did. Donaldson opened the first standalone street-front restaurant in 2002 making Edo Japan a destination of its own rather than one of many options in a food court. He welcomed more franchisees to the Edo family and the company opened its 100th restaurant in Alberta in 2011. Donaldson purchased the business, allowing Reverend Ikuta to focus on his ministry while the new owner set his sights on bringing Edo Japan to more communities in Western Canada.

The restaurant went from a small mom-and-pop outfit to a thriving organization that offered appealing and prosperous franchise opportunities. Donaldson added around six restaurants every year, and the brand’s incredible performance soon caught the attention of Yellow Point Equity Partners. In 2015, Donaldson sold a majority interest and stepped away from the day-to-day operations. The company wanted someone to modernize the brand offering and accelerate expansion efforts across Canada (driving both scale and digitalization), while coordinating a strategic evolution of its menu. They offered the CEO and president’s chair to David Minnett in 2016, who also personally invested in the company upon his arrival.

“I saw this wonderful little engine, and maybe the best kept secret in Canada which had all the right fundamentals that were important to where I saw the market going: fresh, made in the moment and healthier-haloed food in the QSR business,” says Minnett.

A Winning Franchise Model

It didn’t take long for Minnett to identify the fuel of that engine: leveraging the franchise model in place. After all, Edo Japan is first and foremost a franchising business that is fortunate to be based on restaurants that tick all the boxes for today’s evolving consumers. Successful franchisees share the Edo Japan team’s dedication to service and align with the values and standards set out for the brand from the start. Franchisees enjoy significant support from head office through extensive management and staff training before opening, as well as ongoing oversight and support as the new owners learn the ropes. They also run soft opens with franchisees to help the team prepare for a smooth opening.

This process presents an opportunity to improve service while supporting the greater community. The team invites customers in for a free meal so staff can hone their skills before officially opening the doors, and instead of payment they collect donations for the food bank in their area. Edo Japan is a proud, long-time supporter of Canadian food banks and since 2010 has donated nearly $1 million through new store launches and annual giving campaigns.

The organization is a great partner to the community, as well as its franchisees. The team works closely with franchisees, striving to cultivate an elevated menu and business model that will attract customers in the competitive quick service restaurant market, so locations are as successful as possible and remain a rewarding, profitable investment for franchisees.

“Incorporating both the product and our franchisees is pivotal. Once you put them together, the strength of our brand and dedication of our franchisees, you have a winning combination conducive to success,” says Terry Foster, vice president, Franchising & Operations for Edo Japan. “As one of Canada’s fastest growing restaurants, we’ve been working with motivated franchisees to rapidly expand our presence in Ontario, while simultaneously nurturing our established markets and growth in Western Canada.”
Today, Edo Japan can be found from British Columbia to Ontario with an eye on expanding with stores in Quebec and the Maritimes in the near future. The organization is continually evolving as it grows, and in 2017 introduced Fresh Take, a design concept that created bright spaces and highlighted the teppan grill used to quickly cook the classic teriyaki chicken and sukiyaki beef dishes, while also incorporating grab-and-go items like sushi, salads and imported Japanese snacks. Edo Japan expects to roll out another updated store design in 2025.

The look may change but the tried-and-true classics of the menu remain, supplemented by new items that appeal to the next generation of food-forward customers who seek out diverse flavour profiles. There’s something for everyone: fresh sushi, noodle bowls, hearty ramen soups, bento boxes and refreshing bubble teas. The key is offering a wide selection of fresh, delicious food prepared quickly and economically, and Edo Japan embraced this aim further by joining delivery services in 2018, launching their app and online ordering in 2019, and tweaking their loyalty program to allow customers to more quickly earn points to collect Edo Cash™.

Edo Japan proved its resiliency when COVID struck. While the mall locations were forced to shutter, street locations flourished. Consumers rediscovered Edo Japan or found the restaurants for the first-time during lockdowns and the reception was enthusiastic; even when businesses resumed, Edo retained the new customers they gained during COVID, and franchises thrived.

Honour the Crave

The brand stepped up franchise development and last year Edo Japan added around 25 new stores with another 25 expected for 2024. This year, Edo Japan will mark 200 locations across the country operated by approximately 90 franchisees. To continue this growth, the Edo Japan team spent a few years zeroing in on who its customers were, who they could be, and what it takes to remain relevant and exciting in a crowded market. Last year, they executed a strategic relaunch of Edo Japan, invigorating the brand with an eye-catching redesign, captivating marketing messaging and a modern edge.

“We’ve introduced a bit of a new personality that’s a little cheeky, a bit more confident,” says Jessica Pellow, vice president, Marketing. “Our brand platform is ‘Honour the Crave’, and that’s rooted in understanding that our target audience wants to be able to feel that they can indulge without being indulgent. And we are able to deliver craveable flavours that bring them back time and again.”

Loyal regulars, new patrons and customers rediscovering the brand are indulging to the tune of more than 11 million meals a year, and Edo Japan takes pride in creating dishes from fresh local products that taste decadent but are a healthier choice for on-the-go consumers. For 45 years, these incredible franchises have brought a taste of Japan to Canadian tables and with a refreshed look and an everevolving menu, consumers are all too happy to continue to Honour the Crave at Edo Japan.

6807 Railway St SE #310,
Calgary, AB T2H 2V6

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