Sumo Sushi Shares its Big India Plans

After making its mark in the Gulf countries, the new-age Japanese cuisine brand Sumo Sushi & Bento has aggressive expansion plans in India.

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The biggest challenge for Sumo Sushi & Bento has been to clear consumers' misconception that Japanese food is a luxury and to educate them on how healthy and affordable sushi can be. Julianne Holt Kailihiwa, who rose through the ranks from a marketing executive to become President and CEO of the brand, is instrumental in clearing the air and making the brand a hit among new-age customers. She is part of every milestone of the brand over the last 19 years when it began its journey with the first outlet in Dubai in 2000. She outlines her global expansion plan with 42 outlets in the offing across India, the US, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Turkey and others. Excerpts from the interview:


Why did you choose India as part of your expansion plans?

In Dubai and other Gulf countries, we have a large base of Indian customers who crave for Japanese food. In addition, Indians are quite vibrant in their food choices and like to experiment, and are already delighted with Japanese cuisine, especially fusion-oriented food. Hence, we find India as a scalable market for the brand. Further, India is geographically very close, which makes it strategic enough to support and expand our franchise base here.

What are your brand USPs?

We strive to make Japanese cuisine popular among the new-age customers with best sushi in town and family-friendly ambience. Our focus has been to clear the misconception about the Japanese food being a luxury. From the popular bento boxes, noodle dishes and traditional sushi to the ever-famous and custom-created sushi sandwiches, and poke bowl; our sushi menu offers a wide range of healthy options and quality food at affordable prices.

The concept has been such a hit that it has led us to expand aggressively with 20 outlets in the Gulf countries. We are now looking to take our affordable Japanese cuisine to the rest of the world.

Who will be your target customers?

The target customer base will be the well-travelled, educated and digitally savvy people who are aware of the Japanese cuisine. We understand that many of the Indian customers are vegetarians; hence, we already have lot of vegetarian options which we expect to do well in India. We are also open to regionalization and customization of the menu as we expand in India.

What will be your franchise strategy in the Indian market?

We have joined hands with FranGlobal as a master franchise partner who will further appoint franchise partners. We plan to open 25 outlets in India over the next five years. We will focus on major urban hubs, including Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Pune.

The affordable offerings make our model quite scalable as we can penetrate deep into the cities with multiple outlets. Our franchise strategy will be to offer the right product at the right location and at the right pricing.

What are you looking for in your franchise partners?

Japanese cuisine is very delicate and demands high quality and fresh ingredients. Hence, the partner needs to understand the cuisine and the precision it requires. Good financial bandwidth for capital investment and operational expenses would also be crucial.

However, we are not looking for investors, but someone who will be involved full-time in the business. In addition, we require outlets of 2000 sq. ft with high footfall and vibrant ambience.

(This article was first published in the October 2019 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)