Beefing Up the Portfolio

Despite some cultural adjustments in cooking methods, Wolfgang’s international menus still rely heavily on its U.S. steak selections.
Despite some cultural adjustments in cooking methods, Wolfgang’s international menus still rely heavily on its U.S. steak selections. Courtesy of Wolfgang’s Steakhouse

Wolfgang’s Steakhouse adds countries, cultures, and new concepts.

A New York City staple for nearly a dozen years, Wolfgang’s Steakhouse is taking its concept into new countries and new directions. Wolfgang’s opened its first international location, in Roppongi, Japan, in February 2014, and since then has opened in Korea, and will open its fourth Japan location next month—bringing the total number of locations to five abroad and nine stateside. That’s not bad for two years’ work.

“These restaurants are all replicas, and we don’t change the concept of who we are,” says Peter Zwiener, president/managing partner and son of Wolfgang Zwiener, founder of the New York City–based chain. “When we go abroad, we want to make sure customers who walk into Wolfgang’s are getting a New York steakhouse experience. That’s why we don’t try to serve kobe beef but only USDA prime beef. We believe the foreign populations love meat and love our product. The dry-aging process is not new here in the States, but a lot of countries are not aware of [the process] or how to do it.”

However, he points out, you have to be flexible and make allowances for each market. “We realize you have to take into account the local environment as well. Even in the States you have to make adjustments in different cities.” In Wolfgang’s Hawaii location, for example, the restaurant offers its rendition of a local dish—the “loco moco,” a USDA prime burger served on a bed of rice and topped with mushroom sauce and two fried eggs—served at lunch, and in Miami, the restaurant offers stone crabs when they are in season.

In Japan, there are subtle changes in service: Diners are offered wet towels and the Japanese restaurants have more staff, “because they are even more concerned with customer service than Americans,” Zwiener says.

While the Asian menus are almost the same as those in the U.S., they feature several rice dishes such as loco moco and jumbo shrimp scampi, as well as rice as a side. (Rice is very important to this clientele, but is not included on American menus.)

“There are also some ingredients we can’t find in the Asian markets,” Zwiener says. “We can’t ship oysters to Korea for example; we can only use Korean oysters.” Also in Korea, he says, restaurants can’t have tuna in their kitchens for more than 24 hours. And potatoes in Asia are very different from American potatoes. “We have to make adjustments to how we cook things,” he says, “but our menu is still 80 to 90 percent U.S. steak.”

There are also restrictions: Wolfgang’s can’t serve U.S. bacon or U.S. lamb in Japan; instead, the restaurants serve Australian or New Zealand lamb. And instead of shipping Chilean sea bass to Japan, the restaurants use local sea bass or snapper so it is as fresh as possible. In fact, except for its beef, the company buys everything locally.

Wolfgang’s is no stranger to foodservice being highly regulated. In 2003, Japan and several other Asian countries banned beef imports, and it wasn’t until 2013 that Japan lifted the ban.


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