Wendy’s Japan to close by end of December!

Suddenly and unceremoniously, Zensho, the operator of Wendy’s Japan, has announced it will discontinue its licensing deal with the Wendy’s parent company and shut down all 71 restaurants under the hamburger chain’s brand by the end of this month.

There is a brief statement on the chain’s website announcing the decision (the URL oddly misspells “Wendies”) thanking everyone for their service and patronage and inviting everyone to visit a Wendy’s before it’s too late. But it doesn’t exactly tell us why this is happening. The Nikkei Shimbun and Wall Street Journal pass on statements from officials at Zensho stating that while Wendy’s had started to turn a profit, they wanted to focus management resources on their mainstay business, the Sukiya beef bowl chain.

The closure means 1900 part time workers will lose their jobs. According to the Nikkei, Zensho is offering to help them find work at neighboring stores, though in this tough environment I am sure many will have trouble finding new work immediately.

Although I rarely ate at Wendy’s, knowing it was there was comforting as an expat American. Also, at various points in my stay here Wendy’s has served as a meeting place and landmark. It will be very sad to see it go! One can only hope Burger King, which has made a recent return to Japan, will take over some of the former Wendy’s locations.

36 thoughts on “Wendy’s Japan to close by end of December!”

  1. I would be more bummed if the sole Wendy’s in Kyoto hadn’t closed 2 or 3 years ago, but just for the hell of it I will try and eat at one in Osaka before the end of the month if I’m over there.

    But seriously, isn’t this probably a result of the huge boom in higher end burger places over the past few years, particularly in Tokyo? While Wendy’s may be a cut above McDonalds or (ugh) Lotteria, and have a lot of menu items that are different from say MOS Burger, there’s a LOT more places you can get a decent burger than there used to be, by an order of magnitude or two. I certainly don’t expect crappy Burger King to stick it out for long now.

  2. I believe their statement that they want to concentrate on mainstay operations. A quick look at their recent monthly sales figures shows Sukiya same-store sales consistently down on a year-on-year basis (and a consistently falling average ticket price), even at a time when McDonalds, Gyoza no Ohsho, and other downmarket restaurants are booming. Add to that a brewing price war with Yoshinoya and perhaps the management is feeling some pressure.



  3. One fewer hamburger chain. Great, I hope that means fewer hamburgers get made and the environment gets a break from all the harm it has been suffering due to beef production.

  4. And anyway, losing a hamburger chain doesn’t mean people will stop eating burgers.

    Burger King. Yeesh. Its food is disgusting (I lost my taste for it around 11th grade) and BK has the worst customer service by far of any fast food operation I have tried in Japan. Very poor substitute for Wendy’s, which at least uses fresh ingredients and has a very diverse menu.

    All I can hope is that another franchisee decides to take over the Wendy’s brand in Japan. It certainly seems to be pretty popular from what I have seen. There has to be money to be made if it’s managed properly. (Actually, I used to work at Wendy’s in college. Maybe this can be my next career change.)

  5. Don’t forget that gyudon was invented to satisfy a desire for something with a taste of meat at a time when supplies were scarcer and prices were higher… In the end, both gyu-don and fast^food burgers are using the inferior cuts of meat, and tiny scraps, that they just can’t sell to places like steak or BBQ restaurants. But as a burger contains more meat, I think its fair to say that a meal of gyu-don is better for the environment than a burger meal, as it just uses a few shavings of beef, as compared to a burger patty.

  6. Nice! I can get behind any line of reasoning which justifies the consumption of gyudon.

    On a gyudon related note, did you know that Matsuya opened up a tonkatsu “restaurant”? There’s one in Nakano, on Nakano dori just south of Waseda dori. 580 yen gets you a square rosu meal.

  7. I don’t know how Wendy’s is in the larger cities, but the one I visit about three times a year is in a rest area on the Chuuou Kousoku Douro somewhere in Nagano. It’s been pared down and doesn’t offer much over what Mos or Mac would offer. Still I always go there as I like Frosties.

  8. “Although I rarely ate at Wendy’s, knowing it was there was comforting as an expat American.”

    Wendy’s? Really? I understand why people would go there because they like the frosties, but does one less American fast food chain in Japan really deprive you of the creature comforts of home?

    I’m sorry to be a bit critical, but ever since this blog introduced me to the sheer horror that is eating a Krispy Kreme donut, I have been a little perplexed as to why you don’t write as often about the indigenous (and good) food in what surely is the worlds biggest gastronomic playground.

    (Pepsi shiso only counts for half a point.)

  9. Wendy’s pulled out of the UK some years ago. I ate there once. It was okay but nothing very special compared to McDonalds or BK.

    I’ve hardly ever eaten at a burger restaurant in Japan.

    There is a Wendy’s near my house in Kanagawa. I had better get down there before they close.

  10. Yeah, a cold Krispy Kreme sucks. I hated the chain the first couple of times I tried it, until I went to a place that serves them super hot.

  11. A cold KK doughnut is like a beer with ice cubes in it — unthinkable and disgusting. You *must* have it hot or else not at all.

    One would hope that someone would try to bring Taco Bell (or a similar Tex-Mex chain) to Japan. After reading that thread about the burrito place in Azabu-Juban there seems to be quite a gap in the market for inexpensive Mexican/Tex-Mex food.

  12. Mexican type food is a pretty big hole in Japan. There are a few places around, but almost nothing in the budget range-mostly proper restaurants.

  13. One thing that strikes me as odd is the suddenness and finality of the announcement. Didn’t Zensho or Wendys America even try to find another company to try and take on the stores? Maybe some enterprising journalist will find that out for us.

    On the idea of margins being kept low by franchise fees, maybe. But I get the feeling Zensho (or Daiei before them) would have done their homework and negotiated a reasonable fee beforehand. More likely, I think, is that they wanted to concentrate on making the Sukiya business model work.

    One analogy I can think of is, say I have an office job and decide to do translation at home to supplement my income. If I run into trouble at work (extra hours, problems concentrating, etc) I will probably cut back on outside translating because even if the translating is pretty lucrative, it’s not going to pay the bills.

  14. The fact that the announcement was so sudden makes me thing that they were probably negotiating with an expectation that the business would continue in some form, either with a renegotiated franchise contract or being sold to another operator. Of course, there’s always the small probability that some 11th hour buyer will show up now that the announcement is public, but it’s pretty unlikely.

    And I must say, as quality goes Wendy’s is far higher than McDonalds or Burger King. The most obvious difference is in their chicken sandwiches, for which Wendy’s uses actual chicken breast, while the other two use nasty reconstituted chicken patties. Ugh.

  15. Oh and Bryce, once I go back home you can probably expect even more posting by me about the extent and quality of Japanese food available in NYC. I’ll have to review the ramen places one by one…

  16. Does Wendy’s do breakfast? That’s the big utility of fast food places in Japan for me. I’m an early riser and when I’m on the road in Japan it is either fast food breakfast or konbini kashi-pan which often ends up feeling like a brick in my stomach. (Lots of Japanese cafes do nice set breakfasts but they there is usually some serious smoking going on).

    I usually avoid family restaurant morning menus because those sausages just make me feel sad.

  17. “Obviously enough, people are flocking to Wendys to get one last taste:”

    Whoa, I was just thinking the same thing. I will miss Wendy’s チーズチリポテト which I was basically avoiding recently because of calorie.

    I don’t know why, but actually since hearing the news that they will shot down their business, I had a very odd desire to eat Wendy’s burger. I liked their Cheese burger a lot, but it wasn’t even my favorite Cheese burger.

  18. “ウェンディーズに「駆け込み客」殺到 人気メニュー売り切れ相次ぐ”

    Hmmm. Maybe they really ARE trying trying to drum up an 11th hour deal of some kind.

  19. Looks good. I see there’s one in the basement of the Daimaru in downtown Kyoto so I’ll have to go check it out soon.

  20. “you can probably expect even more posting by me about the extent and quality of Japanese food available in NYC.”

    I can give you a review of the Japanese food in DC right now: It’s a steaming pile of crap. The best stuff in the District I’ve had so far is made at a place called the Singapore Bistro,which is a generic Asian place. There is a place in Arlington called “Bonsai” which does jumbo sized sashimi platters which are pretty good. It’s owners are Korean who have spent some time in Japan. The Japanese-owned places are either pretty average or downright horrible. I have bought better sushi in the boarding area at Narita than I have at Sushi Taro, the place here that everyone here raves about. Luckily, somebody else paid for my Sushi Taro experience.

    New York would be a cheaper run than Japan, so I’m looking forward to future reports.

  21. Foreget Krispy Kreme.I just discovered the best donut shop chain in Japan

    Looks good, for cake doughnuts. But for glazed, there can be only one.

    Bryce: Have you tried Kotobuki (Japanese) in the Palisades? I’ve heard really good things about it for the past few years. Makoto, another often-recommended place, is in the same building. Other places on this list that Tyler Cowen recommends are usually a good bet. The key is getting out to the suburbs in most cases. I agree, though, that Sushi Taro isn’t worth bothering with.

  22. Zensho may have concluded that Wendy’s had insufficient critical mass in Japan and it would have proved expensive for them to bulk up given the advertising budgets and market presence of their competitors, many of whom keep their restaurants open 24 hours a day.

    They might have considered expanding if Wendy’s allowed them to buy out the business and run it independently of the US operation, using the trademarks and IP (as happened with Mister Donut, Tully’s and Tower Records). If Wendy’s baulked at the idea, then Zensho would have been left to run a minor operation or close down.

    As far as a sale goes, it depends what Zensho owns. They may own the leases to most of the current sites, some of which are in prime locations (e.g close to Ebisu, Roppongi & Meguro stations as well as a key site in Azabu Juban). If Zensho wants to retain any of them for their other brands then a new Wendy’s franchisee will have to start from scratch which you couldn’t arrange too quickly. Even Burger King is mainly relying on old Lotteria sites for their expansion.

  23. I didn’t know Tully’s had done that. In fact, I didn’t know Tully’s was American-I’ve never even seen it.

  24. Having just got back from the US, where I went in a valiant effort to boost their economy, I took the opportunity to have as much Mexican food as possible. I think it has potential for Japan. Nothing too bizarre in it, although if my wife is anything to go by, Beans Must Go. Especially refried beans. But chicken chipolte and that sort of thing should be fine. Also the fish-based menu items. Beef is shredded often, which is not unlike nikudon. So with the rice, the veges, and wraps are already in Japan, there should be potential.

  25. Tully’s is apparently common in the Pacific Northwest but hasn’t made it over to the East Coast. I had never seen it outside Japan either, and then I found out that the world’s busiest Tully’s is inside the Boeing factory in Washington.

  26. The following quote from an article in the NYT about a premium burger place struck me as a good response to Bryce’s questioning of why we bother mentioning stuff like this:

    He said of Shake Shack: “They can make a lot of money. Burgers are not only American comfort food, but they are also American ethnic food.” This is why “Americans go abroad hankering for a burger,” Mr. Knapp said, and why a global premium-burger strategy could be well received.

  27. Wendy’s may be disappearing from the east side of JR Meguro Station but Baskin Robbins has just re-opened a few feet away. I don’t recall ever going into a Baskin Robbins but that move is slightly interesting because the first outlet the company ever opened in Japan was a few hundred yards away, in 1974. They closed that one in 2000 but decided to re-open “through public demand”. I doubt whether there really was any clamour for Baskin Robbins to return but the company’s head office is only across the road so it probably seemed a bit odd not to have a store nearby.

    Fun fact: JR Meguro station isn’t in Meguro ward, it’s in Kami Osaki, Shinagawa Ward.

  28. There is a BR inside a Tokyu supermarket around where I live. Mrs. Adamu and I go there every now in then, partly because the manager guy is comically dedicated to his job. He hands out flyers outside the station and screams for people to go check it out, and then when we go he is all about handing out samples and explaining the flavors to us.

    But other than that, it’s pretty great ice cream at doable prices. The chunks and flavor variety make it a passable substitute for Ben & Jerrys pints back home. We are usually the only adults there without children in tow.

    BTW, it still irks me that it’s called “31” in Japanese instead of Baskin Robbins.

  29. Baskin Robbins is really nothing special. It’s not even as good as Haagen Daaz, and certainly not as good as the Coldstone Creamery chain that has recently come to Tokyo.

  30. I was disappointed the last time I had BR in Japan (not “Battle Royale”, that’s always fun). I agree with Roy that konbini Haagen Daaz is tastes better to me.

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