How could any restaurateur be crazy enough to design a place with exactly none of the creature comforts that make customers want to sit back, relax, and enjoy their food? Actually, scratch thepart about “sitting back”, because this place doesn’t even have chairs… “I didn’t want just one customer an hour, I wanted to serve twice as many people in the same amount of time” is Kunio Ichinose’s—totally serious—explanation of the thought process behind the Ikinari steakhouse chain.
Sounds great from a business perspective, at least in theory, but most people would probably assume it’d never work in practice. This enterprising businessman refused to give up on the idea, though, and now he’s having the last laugh—his gastronomic empire of Japanese steak restaurants is growing all the time. Ichinose opened his first Ikinari in December 2013 under the motto of “Top Quality Steaks at Affordable Prices”; today, he has 119 locations throughout Japan. He recently made the leap across the pond, opening Ikinari number 120 in New York’s East Village. But why stop there? Over the next five years, the 75-year-old plans to open another 20 restaurants in Manhattan, and he has longer-term plans to expand to otherUS states as well as Europe.
Interactive culinary enjoyment
On average, 450 to 500 customers per day storm through Ikinari’s East Village location, which is open seven days a week from 11 AM to 11 PM. No wonder—each customer only spends an average of 30 minutes enjoying their Ikinari steak. The restaurant’s popularity is showing no signs of fading, though. And even though it’s not exactly a cozy place, the steaks themselves are amazing.
The system is as simple as it is user-friendly, and because it offers so many opportunities for interaction, it’s even fun: customers go up to the counter and order cuts of ribeye, sirloin, or filet by the gram from the restaurant’s in-house butcher. The beef is from a high-quality meat producer in Illinois, which also supplies steaks to the Ikinari locations in Japan). After the meat has been trimmed and weighed, chefs prepare it—primarily one way, which is rare.
Finally, the steaks are transferred to a hot cast-iron platter and brought, still sizzling, to the customer’s (bistro) table. Roughly chopped onions, boiled corn, green beans, and rice are available on the side, and diners also have their choice of toppings, such as wasabi or the soy-based “signature J sauce”, which is a secret recipe. They also offer soft drinks, tea, wine, beer, and sake, but no coffee, which would obviously invite guests to linger… and that would go against the whole Ikinari steakhouse philosophy of “time is money”. And speaking of money, customers pay $.08 to $.11 per gram, depending on the cut of meat they’re ordering; the minimum order price runs between €14 and €25 (about $16 – $28).
Time will tell whether Ichinose’s concept will become the next big thing in New York, which is known for its steakhouse culture. One thing’s for sure already, though: Ichinose’s trimmed-down, lower-priced steak experience is giving the City that Never Sleeps plenty of food for thought.