SkyLark banks on Shabu Shabu hotpot to launch its US business

Skylark may not be a household name in Japan but it has a plethora of well-known fast food restaurant brands from Gusto to Yumean to Tonkara Tei that are found across the country.

It’s a big company with sales in excess of $3b, although its revenues dropped 23% in the pandemic.

Like many Japanese corporates, it’s not global having less than 100 of its 3000+ restaurants overseas, mainly in Taiwan and Malaysia.

Late in September it opened its first outlet in Chicago, a shabu shabu hotpot, branded Shabu-You.

Illinois was chosen because ‘the demographic composition is close to the national average,’ according to the press release.

Reading in between the lines, it seems Skylark thinks sushi or other more commonly consumed Japanese foods (in the West) are too competitive. 

This first outlet is company owned and managed, though like many fast food operators, Skylark hopes to grow through franchising.

I can’t see too many Shabu Shabu brands in the US besides TabuShabu which is based in California, who incidentally appear to be keen to find franchise partners.

Shabu-you’s pricing is based on an ‘all you can eat’ offer with 4 types of meat. I wonder if Skylark has name (and taste tested) the ’Shoulder Clod’ or ‘Eye of Round’? If I was cynical I’d guess these names came straight from the Tokyo head office…

I’m sure with strong marketing and perhaps a more adventurous menu, Shabu-You will grow in the US. 

Like with any retail or hospitality business a key success factor will be location, location and location. For that Skylark will need some strong local talent.

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