Osaka Ohsho chain makes inroads in Shanghai

March 4, 2022 by No Comments

Popular food chain Osaka Ohsho, which specializes in Japanese-Chinese food and is known in Japan mainly for its jumbo gyōza dumplings, aims to take advantage of a surge in demand for Japanese cuisine in China by opening a string of outlets in Shanghai this year.

Bringing the taste of Osaka to the Chinese food mecca, Osaka Fun Dining Osaka Ohsho features new menus offering specialty dishes not found at its eateries in Japan including savory okonomiyaki pancake fritters and kushi-katsu skewered pork cutlets.

Unable to travel to Japan as tourists due to the coronavirus pandemic, Chinese diners keen for a taste of the country must settle for restaurants at home. The result is a surge in demand.

Tomonari Takada, 51, president and representative director of a joint venture that operates the two Osaka Ohsho outlets currently in Shanghai, says, “Our plan is to open five more shops around the center of Shanghai this year.”

Last October, Osaka Ohsho opened its first outlet in the Henderson Metropolitan shopping mall in downtown Shanghai, a tourist hub. The second outlet began business in the Changning District at the end of December.

The interior of Osaka Ohsho's second outlet in Shanghai features some familiar Osaka landmarks. | KYODO
The interior of Osaka Ohsho’s second outlet in Shanghai features some familiar Osaka landmarks. | KYODO

The outlets are brightly lit with neon lights and feature the names of famous Osaka tourist sites on the walls and images of the Glico running man and other iconic images of the city on the ceiling.

Inviting aromas waft through the restaurants as staff yell out “Okini” (thank you), the phrase commonly used to thank customers in the dialect of the Kansai area of western Japan in traditional shops and shopping malls.

Eat & International Co., which handles Osaka Ohsho’s overseas business operations, runs the restaurants in a Shanghai-based joint venture with major Japanese duty-free retailer Laox Co.

Chen Ying, a 35-year-old female customer who dined at one of the new outlets, says, “With the cabbage inside the gyōza, it was sweet with a nice crunch. It tasted great.”

The fried gyōza appeared to be a hit with Chen, although, generally speaking, Chinese consumers prefer the taste of boiled gyōza. She was also impressed with all the playfulness and imagination that went into creating the shop’s decor.

Another 35-year-old woman, who had eaten the pork-bone broth ramen noodles, gave Osaka Ohsho a passing grade. “The flavor of the soup was good,” she says.

Osaka Ohsho operates around 20 overseas restaurants, mainly franchises, in Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore. Before its latest venture into the Chinese megamarket, it had opened around a dozen outlets there starting in 2012, but was mainly forced to withdraw due to the worsening relations between Japan and China.

Osaka Ohsho’s new strategy is to offer Osaka-specific specialties in addition to Chinese dishes, featuring takoyaki (octopus balls) and pot dishes with meat and herbs not served on Japanese menus. About 60% of the menu items, such as takoyaki and okonomiyaki, are specialty dishes from Osaka.

Takada says because Chinese customers tend to have a very keen sense for the saltiness of their food, Osaka Ohsho prepares two kinds of ramen and fried rice — a salty “Osaka flavor” and a lightly seasoned “Shanghai flavor.”

The jumbo gyōza dumplings — a signature dish in Japan — are the hands-down favorite at Shanghai’s first outlet. Six dumplings cost 15 yuan (¥280), or around the same price as in Japan.

Tianjin rice, which is said to have originated in Japan but takes the name of the Chinese city of Tianjin, also whets customers’ appetites and is ordered by many. Okonomiyaki and takoyaki, well-known in China, are also top choices.

Osaka Ohsho had hoped that, on average, each customer would spend around 120 yuan (¥2,200), which is more than in Japan, but most are only willing to fork out about 75 yuan (¥1,370).

Takada says while Osaka Ohsho’s primary target at the outlets, thus far, are young women in their 20s and 30s, it also aims to establish a reputation for being “reliable and tasty” among many Japanese patrons living in the areas.

Because the pandemic has made overseas travel so difficult, there has been a subsequent craving for things Japanese, particularly food, in China, Takada says. According to trade statistics from the Finance Ministry, there was a 41.6% jump in Japanese food exports to China in 2021 compared with the previous year.

“We want to steadily increase the number of shops where people can enjoy the experience of feeling like they have traveled to Osaka,” Takada says.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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