Go! Go! Curry! originated in Kanazawa-city, Japan, and was brought to America (Times Square, New York) in 2007. When she first heard of the restaurant, Tomoko Omori was working for a magazine called Chopsticks New York, which specialized in introducing Japanese culture and cuisine to New Yorkers. As part of that job, she worked closely with the company's marketing team and soon realized the company had no management. Not much later, Omori was presented with the opportunity to become a manager at the restaurant chain, but she stuck with the magazine.
Fast forward three years, Omori accepted a position as the president of Go! Go! Curry! America (a position she still holds), but the company had no funds. Regardless, she didn't give up. Omori worked with her team to scale the business, which now has locations in New York City, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and another opening in Houston, Texas.
Through the process, Omori has learned some valuable lessons about bringing an international brand to the U.S. – lessons that can help others in the same boat.
Maintain your culture.
Born and raised in Japan, Omori cherishes its authentic cuisine – something she didn't want to lose sight of when she started at Go! Go! Curry! She believes the company is now strong because of its commitment to educating Americans about Japanese food. Not many people are aware that curry is a staple food in Japan, so she feels it's her responsibility "as a Japanese native and a sort of ambassador of Japanese culture" to enlighten others.
Rather than adapting to another culture and offering American food at their restaurant, Go! Go! Curry! allows customers to choose their own sides and toppings (from the menu.) That way, they have control over their dishes while still experiencing authentic Japanese cuisine.
She recommends other international small businesses not lose sight of what makes a brand special just to conform with the society you're in. Odds are, your customers don't want products or services they can already get – they want something different.
Additionally, Go! Go! Curry! embraces local small business neighbors that practice the same principles.
"Because our employees are very proud of Japanese authentic food, any Asian concept … or neighbor we welcome as a cooperator."
Connecting with similar companies in the area helps businesses build their brand and establish their presence in the community. This is especially important for international businesses wanting to preserve their customs and traditions.
Omori sees her culture as one that values a strong work ethic and omotenashi, loosely translated as "selfless hospitality." Says Omori, "We just follow that philosophy."
Become a separate entity.
In 2014, the Japanese franchise of Go! Go! Curry! experienced financial struggles in Japan. At the same time, however, they were interested in franchising in America. After losing sleep and battling the idea of relying on a business that was out of her control, Omori decided to separate from the Japanese franchise and focus on growing and scaling her business here in the U.S.
"I wanted to protect all my employees and their families," she said. "So I took this business independently and made our own store in the U.S. ... This is very much an American company."
This choice, while difficult to make, was an intelligent one. If your international brand is failing in other locations, and you feel that it might hurt your chance of thriving, don't be afraid to cut ties and invest in only in the franchises you can control yourself.
Omori's mission is simple: to help her employees, whom she refers to as her "kids," grow both professionally and personally.
"As long as we work hard at it, we're fine."
Don't be afraid to commit.
Representing an international brand that is well-known in one country but has zero brand recognition in another country can be intimidating. If you want to succeed, you'll have to be dedicated, persistent and patient.
"My strategy was to grow in the east coast first," said Omori. However, she met with a potential franchisee in Houston and loved who they were and their passion/work ethic. She decided she would sacrifice flying out to Houston to scale the business.
Omori sees franchising within the country as a way to support like-minded people, fostering a business-to-business connection. She didn't mind making this commitment with the Houston location, because she adored both her company and her career.
"A wonderful thing that my mom said … I think you really became who you were born to be," she said. "I feel so free."
Omori's loyalty to and passion for her brand is what brings the company so much success. If you want the same for your business, don't be afraid to commit.