Hiroshi Roy Miyano, the sole owner and president of custom salad restaurant Crisp Inc, walks into the room full of enthusiasm. The very easy-going president of the well-known salad store chain speaks with passion about his expanding business.
Crisp Inc was founded in 2014, and has since expanded to operate nine Crisp Salad Works restaurants across Tokyo in less than five years. The salad restaurants provide eight signature salads but the concept is for customers to create their own combination by customizing them with optional ingredients.
Venturing beyond salads, Miyano opened R Pizza earlier this year, a fast food pizza restaurant adjacent to Crisp Salad Works in Roppongi Hills. The pizzas here also incorporate the concept of personalizing your meal from scratch.
Miyano plans to open two more Crisp Salad Works branches in September this year, and then another three more by the end of the year, at locations such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, Toranomon and Machida.
Japan Today visits Miyano at his head office to learn more about the business.
How did you get the nickname Roy?
That was when I was living with a host family in California during my high school years. They wanted to give me a nickname and suggested I choose either Eric or Roy. At that time, I didn’t know Roy sounded a bit vintage.
What led you from California to starting a business in Japan?
Well, I was born and raised in Japan until I was 15 years old and then I went to California where I attended high school. Soon after I graduated, I started selling roasted chestnuts to Japanese people at local nikkei supermarkets. I was selling about 3,000 pounds of chestnuts per day — that's more than 100,000 pieces. The business was making $2 million in my second year. It was going well, but I kind of felt embarrassed when I came back to Tokyo and told my friends and relatives what I did for a living. People didn’t get it.
But you came back to Japan to open a business here?
After 9.11, I came back to Japan mostly due to visa issues and I joined Tully’s Coffee Japan KK. I became the operations director for the Koots Green Tea cafe subsidiary and this is when I discovered I wanted to open up my own store one day. In 2009, I founded Frijoles. It was the exact same idea as what I had done in the States - to offer nostalgic food to foreign people living outside their home country.
There was a customer who told me that he had been living in Japan for a decade and had a family here, so he only got to go back to the States once a year, where he would always eat burritos. So when he discovered our store, he was incredibly happy he could eat burritos in Japan. I thought if this can make people happy, it’s worth it. So rather than explaining to Japanese people what burritos are, I thought I’d please people who already love burritos.
How has R Pizza done since you opened it in April?
We’re getting great reviews, especially from expats in Tokyo. Apparently, they feel nostalgic because they used to go to casual pizza stores all the time in their home countries but couldn’t find any equivalents here. Children love it too because they can customize their own pizza. Some kids come every weekend and sit on the terrace. Many people visit to buy a salad next door and they happen to find out about the pizza, so they try both.
Just as you planned?
For us, it’s interesting to note that many people buy a pizza and salad together, which seems a little odd because they are on opposite ends of the health scale. However, we’re grateful that they genuinely pay for our concept and our brand value. We don’t provide salads for the love of salads. In fact, it actually doesn’t matter what product we provide. It’s kind of like what Apple does. Some people wear Apple watches, even though they aren’t a watch person, just because it’s an Apple product and because they are fans of the company. Some customers feel hesitant to eat our salads four or five times a week even though they want to. Our mission is to provide as many meals a week to these Crisp fans as possible.
I understand the Crisp brand has gained many fans. Are you planning to establish more chain restaurants?
We may look into sandwiches because there aren’t so many great places in Tokyo, a hamburger restaurant, or even a brunch place. But for now, we just opened R Pizza, so let’s see how that goes.
Customers can now download an app onto their smartphones to order a salad in advance prior to their visit. This must be convenient for office workers.
Practicality is the key in this busy world. People used to see recommended restaurants on TV and went around to them accordingly. Now, people watch, say for example, Netflix, where they can choose whatever they want whenever they prefer. Everyone watches different programs on Netflix. Applying that analogy to us, everyone should be able choose different foods or recommended products. This is why having customers online is essential. We can gather data for each customer and provide them recommendations based on their past selections. The app does it for us.
You have installed a cashless system in some of your new Crisp Salad Works restaurants. What’s the idea behind that?
Cashless shopping is not our goal. In fact, our goal is to have customers online. We want to know about our customers but we can only do that through our app in order to provide personal service. We want our staff to chat to customers as if they were friends, saying things like “You’re working so late today” or “You’re trying something new today.” But when it comes to the company sorting out data, we can only do that digitally. Unfortunately we don’t get any data provided through delivery means such as Uber Eats, so we’d like our customers to install our app and connect with us.
What are the most important factors in a successful business?
Efficiency is by far the most important aspect in this busy world. For us, that means enabling our customers to buy food more efficiently. It’s all about practicality.
Another key factor is passion. You can sell a high-end chocolate bar for ¥1,000 but the customers need to appreciate the story behind that in order to pay 10 times more than other brands in the market. There has to be an emotional bond between a brand and consumers. These stories are what make people loosen their purse strings. Both these aspects must be coexistent for a successful business.
You have never changed your salad menu. Do you have any plans to do so?
We don’t change our menu and there are a couple reasons behind this. One is that our staff are 90% part-timers. By the time they perfect the technique of chopping and preparing all the menu items, it often happens that they move onto the next stage in their life, so the less the menu changes, the better it is for training.
Second is we have contracts with farms. We have promised them that we will buy from them for at least four to five years. If we keep on changing the menu, we can’t do this. The price is the same all year round no matter what the weather conditions are, or the state of the economy. When the weather affects vegetables, causing an increase in price, the farm owners may lose a little profit, but the opposite occurs when vegetable prices drop. Stable pricing makes for a great relationship between us so when some vegetables are scarce, they secure priority for us. Having said that, our menu is only a guideline. We want people to choose their favorite ingredients and customize their own pizza, for example.
How about occasional seasonal menus?
When I was working for Frijoles, we had seasonal menus. Some customers wanted a change in menu and we supplied them. But a few buys later, they would come back to their original favorites. I realized then that it’s better to have the freedom to make changes to your favorite menu item. For example, if you like Spicy Baimai salad, which is one our best sellers, you can add rice if you are feeling particularly hungry. For customers who use our app, we have learned from data that most individuals choose the same menu item almost all the time.
What do you think about local fast food chains?
I personally think prices set at Japanese food chains are too low. For example, those famous beef bowls would easily cost $20 in the States. It’s not good to make prices too low because when the profits are squeezed, then wages are reduced, and consequently no one wants to work at restaurants. In Japan, people feel sorry for you if you’re in a restaurant business. I feel the need to raise wages.
What is your dream?
If you work for Apple or Google, people go “Wow.” But if you work in the restaurant industry, they may go “Oh.” My mission is to have people go “Wow” when they hear someone works for Crisp. I believe digitalizing customer data is the first step for this to come true.
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