DOUGLAS Foo is out to make Sakae Sushi a global brand that is synonymous with the popular Japanese delicacy.

Think sushi, think Sakae — that is what Douglas Foo, chief executive officer of Sakae Holdings Ltd, wants customers to think whenever they crave sushi.

Foo opened Sakae Sushi, his first quick-service kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi restaurant so that his wife could enjoy eating sushi and other Japanese specialities without having to pay exorbitant prices. The timing wasn’t the best, he remembers.

0018C8B3DF52482FADF0C70C4CE06CEFClockwise from left: Inari Oyster Katsu, Baked Kimuchi Scallop and Salmon Shitake Kushiyaki.

“Sakae Sushi opened during the Asian financial crisis in September 1997 but we had to bite the bullet and forge ahead,” he explains.

Fortunately, Sakae Sushi became a hit from Day One and has now expanded to over 60 outlets in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, China and the Philippines.

In the following interview, Foo reveals the secrets to Sakae Sushi’s growing success.

Q: When did you first develop an interest in food?

A: I became drawn to the food business through my research on the Japanese market. I discovered how healthy Japanese food was and realised the business had great prospects.

What makes Sakae Sushi unique or different?

Sakae’s fun-filled, trendy and speedy concept with its fuss-free, three-tier pricing system lets customers enjoy their meal fully without them constantly worrying about the overall bill. Our economy of scale and state-of-the-art belt management system mean customers are always assured of high quality but reasonably priced sashimi, sushi and a wide variety of cooked Japanese dishes whenever they patronise Sakae Sushi.

To ensure that the safety of our food sources and maintain Sakae’s stringent food quality, we work closely with our suppliers, conduct farm visits and send our food for bacteria count tests weekly.

The first kaiten sushi outlet to introduce comfortable bench seating and interactive, computerised menus, Sakae also has a dedicated Children’s Menu that offers kiddy set meals and cute and colourful sushi creations. The IOI Mall outlet even comes with a custom-fitted, child-height kaiten.

What’s the greatest challenge in being a restaurateur?

It’s a challenge to create an affinity for the Sakae brand in customers and staff. We want to instill a sense of pride and ownership in our people and empower them. Nurturing staff is a continuous process; we want them to grow with the brand. Our talent management programme has groomed many of our pioneer staff into area managers and directors of operations.

How do you come up with new ideas for the menu?

Our team of experienced chefs constantly study industry trends and consumer demands. Many of our latest culinary delights comprise healthier choices that are created with our customers in mind who are becoming increasingly health-conscious. That is why we have added Vitamin E in our sushi rice, as it is beneficial to health.

What are the top five must-have dishes?

You should try these five: Sakae Candle (reverse rolls with crabmeat, avocado, Japanese cucumber, mayonnaise, shrimp and codfish roe topped with fresh salmon “petals”), Sakae Salad (fresh salmon, seasoned seaweed, jellyfish, tempura flakes, salmon skin, Japanese omelette and sweet beancurd skin with sweet plum sauce dressing), Baked Kimuchi Scallop (fresh scallops baked with kimuchi, cheese, shrimp roe and spicy mayonnaise), Ebi Tempura & Cheese Arare Maki (crispy crepe filled with prawn tempura, cheese, spicy mayonnaise, Japanese cucumber and coated with rice crackers) and Cheese Soft Shell Crab Maki (spicy soft shell crab drizzled with melted cheese and spicy mayonnaise).

Citibank cardholders will be entitled to Sakae’s Buy 1 Free 1 on all handrolls from now till Dec 31, 2011. Offer is valid for dine-in only except on the eve of and actual public holidays. Free handroll is based on the lower-priced handroll. No splitting of bills. Offer is not applicable with any on-going promotions or offers.

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