McDonald’s rival with huge plans for Down Under
SATOSHI Sakurada fell in love with the taste of the humble American hamburger during a stint in the US in the 1960s.
Sakurada went on to found MOS Burger in 1972 and today it is the biggest hamburger chain in Japan behind McDonald's.
Using traditional spices, and sauces, MOS Burger adapted the American burger to Japanese tastes with menu items that include rice bun burgers and teriyaki chicken.
MOS is now planning a big expansion in Australia, with ambitions to have 100 stores within five years as it takes advantage of our growing love of Japanese-inspired food.
MOS, which is now a $560 million company, stands for "Mountain, Ocean and Sun".
Australia was the first western market for the company, which has a big presence across Asia, with 1335 stores in Japan, 258 in Taiwan, 33 in Singapore and 20 in Hong Kong.
MOS still has a relatively modest presence in Australia, with only six stores which are all located in Queensland.
The company's Australian project manager Vincent Cheng says it has tweaked its menu and learnt more about the local market since opening its first store at Sunnybank in 2011.
It recently appointed former McDonald's executive Tom Jolly as its general manager for Australia to lead the local expansion.
"More Australians know about the food of other countries," says Cheng. "Twenty years ago lots of people didn't like sushi, but that has all changed and people are trying new things. That is positive for us."
According to the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETO), Japanese cuisine offerings in Australia have been transformed over the past 30 years.
Many Japanese restaurants of the 1980s were high-end affairs run by Japanese hotels for Japanese customers and their business clients. As the Japanese economy imploded in the 1990s and the hotels left, Japanese food in Australia became more focused on casual dining, including conveyor-belt restaurants and ramen noodle bars.
Despite the shift to a broader customer base, quality remains important for the Japanese. Japanese Consul-General in Brisbane Keiko Yanai recently held a showcase of Japanese food featuring sake desserts, sushi rolls and onigiri rice balls.
Yanai encouraged guests, who included chefs and restaurant owners, to make their own rice balls. "A memory from every Japanese childhood is the handmade rice balls that mothers would pack in your lunch for school," says Yanai. "It is our soul food."
MOS Burger's rice bun concept came from the Japanese-style grilled rice ball known as yaki onigiri.
JETO says there are about 250 Japanese restaurants in Brisbane and approximately 1500 across Australia.
Australia remains one of the top export destinations for Japanese food, reaching ¥9.4 billion ($112.7 million) in 2014. Most of that is in the form of processed food and seafood.
Jolly says MOS Burger is determined to succeed in Australia and use it as a springboard into other western markets.
"The decision to appoint me and localise the management is part of that," says Jolly, who, as well as McDonald's, has experience at Bakers Delight and Sumo Salad.
"The biggest change in our industry is people moving to fast-casual dining. People want to socialise around food."
Jolly says that while MOS Burger still sells western-style burgers and fries, the chain remains focused on its Japanese-inspired menu items. MOS Burger's "The 1972" which features a wagyu patty, cheese, American mustard and onion, is sold alongside sushi burgers and Asian lettuce wraps.
"It is very important to keep that Japanese flavour," says Jolly. "The premium burger market is saturated. There are five outlets within walking distance of our CBD store. If we can use a Japanese pickle on a burger we will."