The 32 tables at a spacious log house-style shop were already filled shortly after 10 a.m. on a weekday. Families lounged in the comfy couches, lone customers read books and couples chatted about the day ahead.
Komeda Co.’s Mitaka-Kamirenjaku outlet, on a main road running from JR Mitaka Station in Tokyo, is one example of the influx into the nation’s capital of popular coffee chains from other regions.
Three coffee chains plan to expand their operations in the Tokyo metropolitan area. They are trying to distinguish themselves by touting certain characteristics--a relaxing atmosphere, high-quality coffee beans or brewing technique.
For the Nagoya-based Komeda coffee shops, making customers feel at home is the focus. The chain has nearly 500 stores nationwide and operates mainly in the surrounding Tokai region.
It opened its first Tokyo outlet in 2007 and now has a combined 61 shops in Tokyo and the neighboring prefectures of Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa. They offer all major newspapers and numerous magazines for customers to read.
“I can relax here,” said a man who came to the Mitaka shop with his family. “The parking lot is big, and they don't give you dirty looks if you sit around reading magazines for a long time. It’s hard to find a place like this.”
Coffee shops in Nagoya are well-known for offering a morning set service providing free bread and salad with the purchase of a drink. Likewise, Komeda serves toast and hard-boiled eggs with beverages from 7 to 11 a.m.
But many customers in Tokyo say they don’t need the extras.
“We don’t think the ‘Nagoya meshi’ style of coffee shop meals has gained acceptance here,” said Masashi Komanba, Komeda’s 53-year-old executive. “I think we’ve met the needs of people who want to relax in an at-home, living room-like atmosphere.”
Saza Coffee Co., based in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Prefecture, has eight stores in the prefecture. It opened branches at JR Shinagawa Station in Tokyo in 2005, JR Omiya Station in Saitama Prefecture in 2007 and in a shopping center in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward in 2011.
The chain wants to add more locations in downtown Tokyo if the conditions are right.
Saza’s philosophy is that “fresh beans are the biggest part of good flavor.” The company runs its own 26-hectare farm in Colombia.
Taro Suzuki, the 43-year-old managing director in charge of purchasing, frequently shows up at coffee bean exhibitions in African and South American countries.
“When I travel a lot, I spend 100 days a year overseas. If I think something at a show tastes good, I don't hesitate to buy it,” he said.
Saza also keeps an inventory of Geisha coffee beans from Panama, one of the world’s most expensive at a retail price of 5,000 yen ($50) for 100 grams. The company says it receives a steady stream of requests from major department stores and other businesses to open a branch in their facilities.
Miyakoshiya Coffee Co., a chain with 19 shops in Hokkaido, opened its first Tokyo outlet in Nihonbashi in 2004. It now has five locations in the capital, including Shinbashi and Ebisu.
Miyakoshiya uses slowly and thoroughly home-roasted beans. The coffee is prepared with the nel drip method--filtering each cup through a fresh cloth.
The company says the process involves a lot of washing, but it also brings out the flavor for a good brew.
The chain is considering opening around 20 stores as franchises within the next three years, primarily in the Kanto region.
“I want to run them like a family business, so that’s about the limit,” said Yoichi Miyakoshi, the company’s 57-year-old representative director.
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