Since opening its first U.S. location in Los Angeles’ Studio City neighborhood in 2010, JINYA Ramen Bar has reflected the hip, relaxed, incredibly delicious vibes of the city. So much so that the late Jonathan Gold wrote favorably of the brand in the Los Angeles Times when it had just a single location in L.A. and a few others in Tokyo, Japan.
In terms of its ramen, JINYA prides itself on doing it right, with broth that is slow-simmered for 10 hours in-house, noodles that are meticulously aged for three days, and 13 signature bowls with more than 20 toppings. The brand also offers something for everyone, with small plates, tapas, salads, and easy-to-approach rice and curry bowls.
Millennials and families love JINYA, says Clay Sanger, COO, because of the ease of service, welcoming vibe, and—of course—delicious food. “When you go in, you can see immediately how we put a focus on providing the freshest ingredients and flavors,” Sanger says. “There’s a communal table and people looking to our exhibition kitchen. We put on a show for everybody. It’s exciting. The music is loud, the lighting is very unique, and it’s just a wonderful ambiance.”
Growth was a goal for founder Tomonori Takahashi, but plans to franchise to the extent the brand has today came only after JINYA’s fan base demanded it. Takahashi decided he had a special thing going and didn’t want to miss opportunities to optimize the brand’s popularity.
Now, with 32 full-service locations—and 45 total when factoring in two fast-casual spinoff concepts—Takahashi and the JINYA team have been pleased with the decision to franchise, as well as with what those franchisees have added to the company. JINYA goes out of its way to make sure franchisees are a great fit for the brand by providing training at an L.A. location and involving franchisees every step of the journey once they’ve joined. The right partners, Sanger says, need to have capital to build the restaurants, but also operational expertise and a passion for the brand.
“We created a franchise business council where they have a seat at the table and a voice that represents our entire franchise community,” Sanger says. “We’re all in this together. It’s a two-way street. For us to have this growth, what you need is great relationships with our franchisees.”
Focus on profitability is always top-of-mind for the brand, but equally important is having mutual confidence between the franchise partners and company. In addition to its franchise business council, JINYA also offers monthly franchise business updates and is planning a franchise summit later in 2019 for the entire company.
JINYA has also found success in offering a selection of restaurant styles for franchisees to choose from. The first is the full-service, 2,200–2,500-square-foot JINYA Ramen Bar, which is what the brand will always start with when entering a market. The other two options, JINYA Ramen Express and bushi by JINYA, are fast-casual spinoffs of JINYA with smaller footprints and quicker service. JINYA Ramen Express offers ramen in a build-your-own format, and Bushi offers ramen plus sushi hand rolls. Both are great for locations where a full-service model doesn’t make the most sense, like in stadiums, airports, college campuses, and the ever-popular food halls. “It’s great for our franchise partners, because they have flexibility and portability to use any one of the three concepts,” Sanger says.
The franchise systems that JINYA has set up have helped the brand succeed in 14 states so far, with many more to go, Sanger says. People expected ramen to succeed on the East and West coasts, but the JINYA team was pleasantly surprised by how well the brand did with Midwest markets like Omaha, Nebraska. “We really didn’t know what to expect when we opened that location,” Sanger says. “We knew we had a franchise partner that was very passionate and wanted to open a location there, but Omaha has been very successful.” This tells Sanger and Takahashi that their plan to continue growing across the country is a good one. By 2021, the team hopes to have 100 total restaurants (including fast-casual units) and 250 restaurants by 2024.