YO!, the world-famous sushi and Japanese food specialist with its iconic ‘kaiten’ conveyor belt and vibrant color-coded dishes, is looking to the future with its tech-led, experiential dining proposition.
Bursting onto the U.K. restaurant scene in 1997, it introduced Londoners to a brand new, unique way of eating – taking the restaurant world by storm. Since the global Japanese food boom, due to its varied cuisine and perceived health benefits, there has never been a better time to be part of the tastiest, fastest-growing food trend.
YO! is a brand that has the credentials. Its Tokyo-inspired menu is much more than the handcrafted sushi that initially made the brand famous. It also specializes in ever-popular Japanese classics like katsu curry, ramen, tempura and gyoza. YO! continuously dishes up the freshest hand-rolled sushi; the very best Japanese street food; and innovative, talkable, social first small plates, larger bowls and sharers, earning the brand the 2022 Midas Award for best in Asian Casual Dining.
YO! won big at the 2019 Food Made Good Awards too, taking home an award for responsible fish sourcing, and another for treating staff fairly. The brand also claimed the awards for employer of the year and the healthy eating award at the Eat Out Awards in 2016. YO! continues to be recognized by the best in the industry both for the quality and sustainability of its product/service and how it treats its staff.
A flexible model with franchisees at the forefront
Aside from the exciting dining offer, YO! was quick to recognize the growth of the ‘food to go’ market, and created ‘YO! To Go’ as a subbrand and alternative dining solution for those needing food on the move or the opportunity to have their favorite dishes delivered straight to their door.
The YO! investment model offers flexible footprints and different food operations dependent on location, audience and unit size, making this a dynamic and exciting investment opportunity. Building brand awareness in new territories using full-service flagship restaurants with the iconic conveyor belt is recommended, these can fit footprints from only 125 – 250 sq. meters.
YO! makes an attractive partner due to its flexible footprint, allowing franchisees to open in a variety of prime locations, for example: transport with partners like Network Rail and Heathrow, locations on the busiest U.K. high streets, shopping malls with partners like Intu and Westfield, or concessions with prestigious partners like Selfridges.
Its successful grab-and-go units with seating from only 150 sq. meters are perfect for high footfall areas, such as transport locations. For units with as little as 30 – 35 sq. meters, YO! has a thriving kiosk model, which is a winning proposition in supermarkets, shopping malls, universities, and event spaces.
Due to the flexibility of the model, capital expenditure can be controlled with smaller unit operations. Sales can be maximized through additional revenue channels such as click and collect, delivery aggregators or retail, much like how the company runs its U.K. operations.
Growing international presence and audience
It wasn’t long before YO! attracted attention from an international audience with its adaptable proposition; be it the full-service restaurant, grab-and-go unit, kiosk or delivery kitchen.
Alongside excellent service and the extensive flavor-packed menu, the YO! experience is as vibrant as the plates that made it famous and appealing worldwide. Since opening its first international site in Dubai in 2003, YO! has built a network of experienced franchise partners around the globe (SSP, Lagardere, Epigo, BTA and Gourmet Gulf), bringing its colorful offer to a host of countries.
Currently, YO! has 19 franchised locations across shopping malls, airports and train stations in France, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Turkey, Dubai and Australia. Some of these franchises already operate with multiple units in airports and cities, showcasing the growth potential for area developers.
The brand’s growing presence has been supported and facilitated by its long-term franchisee, SSP, which has a presence in Europe, the Middle East, Australia and soon Qatar. SSP has also demonstrated to franchisees the strength of each model, whether it’s the kiosks, the grab-and-go model or the conveyor belt model. Different physical locations will require different models, and YO! is well suited to supporting franchisees’ journey to successful ownership.
Gourmet Gulf is the brand’s longest-standing franchise partner, working together since 2003. It currently operates four conveyor belt models in malls and three kitchen delivery units in the lucrative Dubai market, as well as further locations in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Gourmet Gulf plans to open another location in Dubai this year, and has even more up its sleeve for 2023.
Certain parts of the world have shown a love for Japanese food, and two areas the brand is looking for area developers are Australasia and Southeast Asia.
The Australasian consumers’ familiarity with East Asian food has meant Japanese food has carved out a space for itself in the country, and is now screaming out for a reputed, international brand to serve fans of the cuisine.
The Japanese food sector in Southeast Asia is one that is experiencing incredible growth, and forecasts suggest will grow at a faster rate than in the U.S. or Europe due to the burgeoning middle classes in the region. There could potentially never be a better time to get into the Southeast Asian market.
Join a Japanese cuisine powerhouse
Under the ownership of Mayfair Equity Partners and leadership from group CEO Richard Hodgson, YO! embarked on an ambitious investment and acquisition plan throughout 2017, acquiring Bento Sushi (the number one Japanese food business in Canada) in the same year.
The following year, Taiko Foods (a British company that produces sushi and food-to-go for a host of the U.K.’s leading supermarkets) was acquired, followed by Snowfox (which operates over 1,000 sushi kiosks, including full-service sushi bars in the U.S.) in 2019. As of 2022, these brands form part of the Snowfox Group, a leading international multi-channel Japanese food business that exists to create better food for everyone, the Japanese way.
By being part of this global group with franchise systems across the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and the Middle East, you can have confidence that this business has the know-how to lead and support successful franchising operations within any market. The Snowfox Group has a highly skilled central support team to ensure successful operations across all territories.
New franchisees will benefit from the expertise within all company departments. This includes everything from preparing business plans and financing, site selection and design support, menu development, product and supplier sourcing, systems specifications and I.T. guidance and much more.
YO! is now a multi-channel, multi-format business with 53 company-owned, full-service restaurants across the U.K. and Ireland (including presence in every major U.K. city); over 100 kiosks in Tesco; a range of pre-pack sushi in over 1,000 retail locations with key partners Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Co-op and David Lloyd; and a range of meal tonight sauces and condiments across over 1,500 Tesco, Waitrose, and Co-op stores, as well as Ocado online.
YO! is ready to enter into the next stage of its expansion strategy through franchising. YO! will predominantly be looking for high net worth, multiple unit developers in Europe and Australia in its initial phase of development.
The Franchising Centre will be supporting YO! through association in 103 countries to expedite this growth. Alongside the international expansion, YO! will also be looking to expand the U.K. operation through franchising and will be actively recruiting franchisees in the near future.
At a Glance YO!
Year established: 1997
Number of franchised outlets: 19 globally
Locations of units: Norway, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Turkey, U.A.E. and Australia
Investment range: £500,000 – £700,000 per unit
Minimum required capital: £5m
Contact: David Dillon, email@example.com