If restaurant is a stage, the main performers are the staff. We do not only serve meals to customers, but we also provide service as well. Chikara no Moto Co Ltd(Ramen Business)

Chikara no Moto Co Ltd
1-10-1 Yakuin, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka, Japan
Website: http://www.chikaranomoto.com/

Interview by: Hirotaka Nishiyama
※The content of the article applies during the time of the interview. The situation may change by time. 

Mr. Yoshihiro Okunaka stated that in the past 20 years, Ramen has been a business that emphasize on the taste and the price. However, Ippudo has started emphasizing on providing good service, first by starting from company's philosophy before applying it into action. 

Talking about Ippudo, we do not only think of delicious Ramen, but we also think of the good service and lively atmosphere. Normally, for Ramen business, as long as the taste is good, customers will come back. Why does Ippudo take a further step to emphasize on the good service?

In the beginning, our restaurant was a bar. At that time, we had a lot of young lady customers. 
We learn from them that actually these young ladies also like Ramen. However, the reasons why they do not visit Ramen are because of bad hygiene, strong smell and scary image. Listening to their reasons, we realized that we can get rid of all these negative factors, more ladies will visit Ramen stores. That’s the reason why we build Ippudo. Emphasizing on not only taste of the Ramen but also in every other areas has since become the main concept of the store.

Our company’s president worked in a theater before. Since established, he always said that restaurants are like stage; on this stage, the main performers are the staff. The taste of the food is certainly important. However, the ones who can give good impression to the customers and make them impress are the staff. Only serving delicious food is not enough to be a good restaurant. The restaurant must have one more selling point, be it liveliness of the staff or the thoughtfulness to the customers. If not, the customers are not likely to return to the restaurant again.

For example, rooibos tea that is served to customers while they are waiting in the queue is very popular. Can you please tell us about the story of this service?

Our company is not a mega-size one. We do not have those strict processes in the management. When the staff wish to do something, there are no rules that they will need a mission from the management. As long as the staff in the store agree, they can do it. Hence, we also cannot tell you exactly how and when this service started. However, what we know for sure is, it is born from the staff’s consideration to the customers. The staff saw the customers waiting outside in the hot day and they thought they should at least serve cold water to the customers while they are waiting. Thus, this service is originated from the kindness of the staff to the customers. They think of the customers’ feeling and response accordingly.

Many people think that this service of serving tea is the rule of the company, but actually it is not.We do not write in the staff manual about this. Our staff manual only specifies cooking method and staff hygiene. Regarding the service to the customers, we let each store staff decide on their own. We do not specifically specify how the service of the store should be like as long as the services they provide correspond to the philosophy of Ippudo. These different ways of serving customers give rise to an amazing phenomenon when we open a new branch. This is because staffs from different branches will come to help with the opening. As each of the branch have different ways of serving customers, the staffs from different branches will have to discuss and share about how they serve customers in the store. These discussions bring about a great process of thinking and discussion to understand the customers’ feeling and needs. Furthermore, the discussion is a good opportunity for staff to learn about each other’ store and adapt what is relevant to their own store. This bring about the development of not just the newly opened store but also the existing stores as well. Nowadays, there are many tools that can be used in the distant communication. However, our company emphasize greatly on the face-to-face communication.

Is there a fear on effect on brand image as each different branches offer different unique services to customers?

We train all of our staff in all branches to understand about the philosophy of Ippudo. Hence, we do not have such fear.

For example, when we hire part-time staff, we spend as much as 20 hours to train them about the company’s philosophy and important concept. We only start teaching the work operation only after they understand the company’s philosophy. And even after the training ends, the store managers will always constantly emphasize these concepts at the store’s meeting and training. We believe that these constant teaching of the company’s philosophy is one of the strength of the company.

Such teaching makes the staff absorb the philosophy of the company deep in their mind. Believing so, we are convinced to let the staff service the customers the way they wish. Allowing the staff to think for themselves leads to many more creative ideas than telling them to follow the rule strictly. Other may think that what we are doing make ruin the brand image. However, we are sure that we have place the philosophy of the company deep in all of the staff’s mind. Hence, we believe that regardless of the different ideas about how the staff try to impress the customers, all of the staff’s idea comes from the same basis, which is our philosophy.

Are there any other methods of training the employee?

In 2006, we distribute Mission Card to the staff. This card is a tiny card that states the important things in human’s life. At first, we thought of writing credo of the company (such as company policies and management overview) in the card. However, we felt that before emphasizing on the value of the restaurant itself, we want our staff to see the value in themselves. With this idea, we compile 21 things that are important to human being. All of which are usually taken for granted by most people. However, without all these things, we cannot carry out restaurant business and give good service to customers.

In restaurant, there are many different types of customers. We want our staff to realize that not all customers will have the same value as they do. Everyone has been through many different experiences. There must be customers who had been in very difficult situations and are very pitiful. However, it is not possible to know their background. Hence, ew teach our staff not to judge customers from what they see. Giving them the Mission Card also like sending a message to the staff to treasure what they have and not to judge other people, because they may not have what we have.

Now we are still in the process of purifying the staff’s mind. We still cannot see the change concretely with bear eyes, but we believe that, by doing this constantly, we will yield a fruitful result in the future.

Furthermore, In 2006, we distribute A5 notebooks to the staffs and told them to write anything until the whole notebook is fully written. The content could be anything from their favorite quotations, their private stories or even about their girlfriend. Nobody can see what they write because it will be their private notebook.

The objective of the training is to make the staff feel the sense of achievement when they achieve something. In term of education, this training trains the staff to think by themselves.

At first, we told the staff that the president will be angry if they do not write in the notebook. Now we do not have to say that anymore. The staff are enjoying writing their notebooks. This training is already reaching the second year. We are expecting the staff to continue this training for 3 years before evaluating the result.

From Mission Card

Chikara no Moto Co Ltd deems these philosophy very important. There are 21 mission written in this card. Please always keep this card with you and keep all these mission on your mind.

Everyone’s smile is the source of power.

Smile is the source of power.
We will spread the smile to though our work in the restaurant to make the customers happy and contribute to the happiness of the society.

6 Promises

Remember that smile and thankfulness are important.
Be honest, truthful and humble.
Never forget to have a considerate heart.
Be brave, put thought into action and have perseverance.
Remember to have faith and confident and be proud.
Not to follow others. Create something new.


We will always create new values.
We will spread the values we create worldwide by using smile and thankfulness to.

Ippudo has been using Mystery Shopping Research since October 2006. Please tell us more about this.

At first, we introduced this system into our store because we hope that our part-time employer will have a higher motivation. At that time, we also heard that Koshien Izakaya has also been using this system. Hence, we thought we should try it as well.

※Koshien Izakaya is a NPO restaurant that that President Kesuke Oshima built in January 2006. This restaurant aims to make Japan a happy country. The philosophy of the restaurant is “Learn together. Grow together. Achieve together.” Only one year after opening, Koshien Izakaya is ranked the top in Japan. Koshien Izakaya also uses MSR in the operation.

We do not give instruction to the stuff about how they should be using the MSR report. All we do is distributing report to each of the branch every month and give 30,000 Yen reward to branch that achieve score higher than average. This greatly give motivation to the part-time staff. We also give special award to Excellent-preforming branch every 6 months.

How do staff react to the report?

When new report arrives, the staff always read them very diligently and humbly accept the comments that are written in the report. They aim to improve the part that is still not good enough and are very positive that if they can improve themselves, next time they will get full score!

When the staff get good comments and score from the report, they will be very happy. It is very hard to explain how happy they are if you do not see their reaction at that time. Ramen is not a business that get praised very often by the society. Hence, the staff are very happy when they are praised.

Especially MSR is the comment from customers, normally the staff are willing to listen to the customers than to the management. This is because normally the management give a great degree of freedom to the staff. The staff usually have confident in the way they serve the customers and hardly accept any change. Before MSR, we have tried using many methods to improve our service, but the success is to a very limited extent. We have tried giving reward to best-performing part time staff, using uniform color to rank the staff and many more. The reason why these were not successful is because the staff do not want to or are not interested in comparing their service to those of other branches. Each of the branch has different environment. Competing among different branches is not a very good idea. Rather, we hope to see all of the branches united as one.

MSR is the only tool to make us answer to the need of the customers perfectly. It is to understand the customers from their point of view. Normally, we always try to think of the feeling of the customers. With MSR report, we can understand the customers even better.

Lastly, how will Ippudo even further in the future.

We do not want people to have the stereotype thinking that「Ippudo = President Kawahara」 and 「President Kawahara =Ippudo」 We constantly launch new menu to make customers feel that we are always developing.

The New Kiwami is 1300 Yen, which is considered expensive for ramen, but it is the result of our deep thinking about how to become price leader. When the price of ramen in Fukuoka was at about 250 Yen, our Ramen was 400 Yen. Before long, other ramen restaurant also adjust their price to about 400 Yen as well. But by that time, our ramen price was already at 600 Yen. This 600 Yen Ramen is the current white-bowl and red-bowl ramen that are still offered in the store. We still develop new recipe since then. This is where the 1300 New Kiwami Ramen originate from.

Ramen priced at 1300 yen is indeed very outstanding. Not just one store sell Ramen at this price but all of the 33 stores nationwide sell Ramen at this price. Normally, Ramen are usually priced below 1000 yen. Ramen over 1000 Yen will be seen as overpriced because Ramen are seen as cheap meals. Most of the Rames restaurants are scared that the customers will be raged if they price Ramen over 1000 Yen. However, we believe that if we cannot overcome this price barrier, Ramen will forever be seen as a cheap food. We are convinced that we can do this because it had been made possible by other types of food such as Soba noodle. Soba noodle used to be seen as cheap food, but there are restaurants which sell Soba noodle at 1200 Yen successfully. All types of food should come in a range of quality that customers can choose from. For example, there are cheap 100 yen belt sushi and there are also sushi that cost 20000-30000 Yen per person per meal. Customers understand that the price varies according to the quality of the food. If the price range of ramen become broader, the quality of ramen will be higher as well.

We certainly have some worries about setting Ramen at the price higher than the market. The customers will definitely have a question about whether or not our ramen really worth the price. No matter how much we explain, it is very difficult to make them believe that our ramen, with good taste and ingredients, worth the price. When the customers understand our good intention to make high-quality ramen, the questions in their mind will slowly disappear. We are also confident in our ramen quality. That is why we have the courage to set our ramen price at this price. If the quality of our ramen is not good enough, we will not dare to take 1300 Yen from the customers. The staff also understand in the high-quality of our Ramen and they are proud in the Ramen restaurant they are working at.

When we introduce new Ramen to staff, we do not use method such as sending document teaching how to make new Ramen to each of the branch and instruct them to teach the staff to make new Ramen from tomorrow. What we do is visiting all of the stores and check the store’s general situation, hygiene and the process of making Ramen whether or not they are up to standard. We also ask the staff for their opinions in different matters before start explaining the new menu and the reason why we want to launch it. We want to make sure that our staff understand our good intention. We believe that we cannot sell the new menu well if the staff do not understand about the menu.

Now we only have 33 branches. Therefore, even if we use this tedious method to introduce the new menu to the staff, it only took us half a year. However, if the number of the branches increase in the future, there will be more problems that we have to face and we will need more time to carry out this process.