TOKYO TOKYO  TURNS  20

MANILA, May 23, 2005
 
(STAR) By Joy Angelica T. Subido  -  Seven hundred kilos of pork, 500 kilos beef, 300 kilos chicken, 120 kilos of tuna, 10,800 pieces of shrimp, 800 kilos cabbage, 500 kilos carrots, 300 kilos mung bean sprouts, and 200 kilos of onions consumed per day. Seven hundred liters of Kikkoman soy sauce, 350 10-kilo sacks of breading, 350 50-kilo sacks of rice, and 12,160 gallons of red iced tea concentrate consumed in a week. One outlet in 1985, 10 stores in 2000, and 40 stores today. Thirty employees in 1985, 300 in 2000, and a veritable army of 1,300 people in 2005.

At 20, Tokyo Tokyo has come a long, long way!

The first Tokyo Tokyo store opened on April 22, 1985 at the Quad Carpark. Serving fast, affordable Japanese food, like classic shrimp tempura, yakisoba noodles, pork tonkatsu, sushi and sashimi, the restaurant was unlike the usual Japanese restaurants of the time. Whereas most Japanese restaurants in 1985 had a subdued atmosphere and traditional, uncomfortable seating that most Filipinos were not used to, Tokyo Tokyo’s atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. The Japanese entrees were affordable and delicious, and the restaurant served a delicious and unusual red tea that could not be had elsewhere. Best of all, the amiable staff was there to assist the customer who did not know what to order. After all, you have to consider that in 1985, Japanese food was not run-of-the-mill fare.

I am seated in the boardroom of the new Pioneer St. headquarters of Tokyo Tokyo with marketing director Sheila Ramos and managing director John Amante. They are young, friendly, energetic, and articulate. Together with another partner, they have successfully steered the restaurant chain to what it is today.

"You simply have to work hard," smiles Sheila, when asked if there is a formula for success. "You have to be ready not only for the downturns, but for the upturns as well."

John Amante agrees. "We read the same books," he laughs.

A French-trained chef, he says that there can be no substitute for sincere effort and hard work. Tasked to oversee operations, he is constantly on the move – monitoring the movement of supplies and checking on the restaurants and employees throughout the city.

"It is a fun environment and we will try anything," he volunteers.

He also stresses the importance of having a "can do" attitude.

"When you are offered opportunities, you have to take these and condition yourself that you can do it," he says.

Sheila agrees. The rapid expansion of the restaurant chain is partly due to invitations from the different malls to put up stores. "We were so fortunate to get the confidence of the mall developers so we couldn’t turn down the invitations."

We walk through the offices of Tokyo Tokyo and John points out that the usual cubicles found in most offices are nonexistent. Instead, the workrooms are designed to encourage people to mix.

"This is not the usual setup of most offices. In our company, we encourage our employees to communicate. The advantage of this set-up is that office tensions are avoided, and working together becomes a pleasurable task," he says.

"We are constantly learning new things about the business," Sheila and John agree. "We adopt systems that work."

As construction of a new and bigger company commissary goes full blast, they are learning the intricacies of the construction business as well.

Although tasked with the management side of operations, Sheila and John do not hesitate to get their hands dirty. To ensure that their company maintains the highest food quality, they trained to get the Serve-Safe Standard given by the International Safety Council based in the USA.

The spirit of derring-do has been imbibed by the employees. I met Nette Trinidad who has been with the company for 19 years. Starting out as part of the original restaurant’s pit crew, she is now purchasing manager of the company. "The only job I had difficulty with while working for Tokyo Tokyo was as cashier," she deadpans. "This was because I am too short and always had difficulty reaching the cash register."

Another long-time employee is chef Ambo Jaurigue, who started as a security guard. He took the initiative of staying around to watch and learn cooking from the original chefs. Today, he is a senior chef for the company.

This dynamism is reflected in Tokyo Tokyo’s menu. Today, I am trying a new dish called tonkatsu with ham and cheese. Light, tasty and covered with a golden brown breading, it did not disappoint.

The tonkatsu variant is part of the company’s promotion called "Tonkatsu Very Much," and is served with a regular red iced tea. Pricing remains affordable at P99. John shares that they had planned to serve the entree with a fried egg on top. However, this proved a bit tricky because making the perfect fried egg was elusive sometimes. In addition, cooking the perfect egg took too long. Rather than compromise the quality of food and service, the plan to serve egg with tonkatsu was abandoned.

Japanese fried chicken or karaage, yakisoba, misono vegetables and potato balls, with a choice of sweet and sour, honey orange or spicy sesame sauce with all-the-rice-you-can-eat is a filling choice for big eaters. This combination is known as Tokyo Tokyo’s "Anniversary Big Plate" and is priced at an unbelievable P99 as well.

Other Tokyo Tokyo promotions include eat-all-you-can yakisoba (from 2 to 5 p.m. daily) for P50, seafood and vegetable tempura served with regular red iced tea for P79 (available only in select stores), and Sumo Bowls of beef misono, Sumo Tokyo fried chicken in sweet and sour sauce, and Sumo chicken and vegetable tempura. Sumo bowls can be shared by two people and cost P159.

Along with a new dessert called Mango Summer Chill, the entrees are the result of continuous experimentation and numerous taste tests.

Are there plans to franchise the Tokyo Tokyo brand? Both Sheila and John feel that the company isn’t ready yet. Of course, the possibility of franchising has crossed their minds, but they want to be certain that they can maintain a central commissary/kitchen to keep the quality of the food constant.

The company is also on the lookout for people who can work for them as service and kitchen crew, as well as managers. Plans are underway to open six more stores in 2005. Indeed, this is a big year for the company.

To celebrate Tokyo Tokyo’s 20th year, an innovative promotion has been conceptualized. Called "Auto Ko ’To, The Last-Man-Standing Challenge," it is open to all Filipino citizens aged 21 to 35 years old as of January 1, 2005. Contestants must be physically fit and must provide a medical certification attesting to their good health.

Qualifiers are required to register personally on May 21 at the SM Megamall Open Parking C at exactly 8 a.m. with the required documents, such as an NSO-certified birth certificate, valid IDs (any three of the following: SSS ID with picture, driver’s license, valid passport, valid school ID with photo, credit card with picture.).

The final contestants will be required to place their right hand on their designated hand decal on the vehicle from 12 noon of May 21. To remain in the challenge, each participant’s hand must remain flat on the vehicle surface. Participants will be given a five-minute break every six hours, are not allowed to communicate or have any contact with their family, relatives or friends for the duration of the challenge, and are allowed to eat only the food provided for them by Tokyo Tokyo.

It is a test of endurance. And, as the name of the challenge implies, the last man who is able to keep his hand on the car gets the chance to bring it home.

As Tokyo Tokyo celebrates its 20th year in 2005, it will not have only served two million servings of tonkatsu, two million beef misono, and over 20 million shrimp tempura. This year, Tokyo Tokyo thanks its legions of supporters by giving away a brand-new car.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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