YO!Sushi exec discusses franchising in U.S.

United Kingdom-based YO!Sushi opened its first United States restaurant this summer in Washington, D.C.'s Union Station. With its first U.S. location under its belt, YO!Sushi is ready for additional expansion in the United States. Alison Vickers, business development director for the chain, chatted about YO!Sushi's U.S. debut and about its upcoming expansion plans.

Q: Why did you target the United States for expansion?

The U.S. has the largest and most exciting restaurant market in the world. The YO!Sushi concept in the U.K. is differentiated by offering delicious healthy sushi and other Japanese classics via a snaking conveyor belt, using exciting colorful design to deliver an explosion of tastes, sights and sounds all at your finger tips

Q: How did you find your first franchisee?

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We have attended several industry conferences and have been meeting operators for quite a few years in the U.S. We met our first franchisee at the Restaurant Finance conference in Las Vegas in 2010; however, a couple of years earlier we had been introduced to our now-franchisee by our U.K. private equity partner. Now that we have our first restaurant open in the U.S., in Union Station, Washington D.C., we find this is a great first port of call for potential franchisees to get an introduction to the concept before coming to the U.K. to look at a whole bunch of YO!Sushi restaurants.

Q: What were/are you looking for in U.S. franchisees?

First, we think it is important we share a similar vision with franchisees for the YO!Sushi brand around people, locations, operations and promotions resulting in a solid financial return for our franchisees. We are interested in contracting multi-unit deals (minimum of five locations), which means a great operator and of course the financial capability to build and grow multiple locations. We believe that existing restaurant franchisees with a proven track record are the right type of company, or if they are a start up, they should have a solid record in the industry as an operator, along with the financial, marketing and human resources back up required to roll out a brand.

Q: What did you have to change to open in the U.S. compared to Europe?

We never build the same restaurant twice! Although there are certain elements to the design and layout, each restaurant has its own distinctive look and feel. Union Station has classic YO! Design features, along with some unique finishes such as a giant Washington, D.C. meets Tokyo mural. After a lot of research and tasting panels, we have modified some of the menu items to meet American tastes, especially around some of the sushi rolls. The menu is around 80 percent the same as the U.K. with the look, feel and design of the menu the same as the U.K.

Q: What has the customer response been to the first U.S. location?

We are delighted with the overwhelming positive response we have received with positive reviews, positive blogs, great social media mentions as well as our own online survey we undertake across our whole estate. We have been featured on TV, have a loyal following as a great place to have a quick healthy lunch either dine-in or take-out, and we are continuing to build awareness for new customers to come and try us.

Q: What are your plans for future expansion in the U.S.?

We are in a number of conversations with multi-unit franchisees for territories such as Chicago, Boston, New Jersey and Florida. We are highly selective in our partner selection as we want to acquire the right partners for a long term successful relationship.

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