Why Yoshinoya America Sucks (They Struggle to be Japanese) Compared to Yoshinoya Globally

Chinese, Japanese, look at these Asian BBQ meatballs and Sweet Chili Shrimp on the menu. With these items, Yoshinoya in the U.S. is more like a Chino’noya Express

Originally posted in 2017, Updated on Jan 6, ’22, and Jun 6, ’23

If you think your parents thought you were a disappointment, try going to a Yoshinoya in California because they are a massive disappointment compared to their big brother in Japan. The brother operating as Yoshinoya America in the United States struggles with offering Japanese food.

Yoshinoya America is NOTHING like the infamous and much-loved Yoshinoya in Japan and Asia. In the U.S., they, unfortunately, do not understand the Yoshinoya brand because they do not do Japanese food as they do throughout Asia.

I love Yoshinoya in Asia because YA is doing clam chowder, Chinese orange chicken, egg rolls, and Taiwanese boba tea.
Photo Description: a Yoshinoya exterior in Japan. The first story location is on the corner of a multi-story building. Out front, there are a couple outdoor banners outing their pricing which is touting 280Y. The above Yoshinoya signage states that they are a 24 hr business.
There are certain things you love about a brand, and Yoshinoya America got almost none of it right (you know they are not the favorite child in the family). Image by Jordi Sanchez Teruel

The Yoshinoya menu: 2017 vs. 2023

Orange chicken (Chinese), honey walnut shrimp (Chinese), spring rolls (Vietnamese/SE Asian), to clam chowder (American) are on the menu because who would want to eat Japanese food.

I originally wrote this back in 2017?, and it is because I love Yoshinoya, but Disney, Yoshinoya, and a million other companies have no clue what branding is which is why they all fail as brands or with much loved brands, like Star Wars.

Now, almost 5-6 years later, I wanted to know how much has changed with Yoshinoya.
Photo Description: The Yoshinoya america menu which consists of everything in a bowl such as Asian BBQ meatballs, teriyaki chicken, sweet chili shrimp, original beef, grilled steak, habanero chicken, and grilled tilapia.
Yoshinoya is from Japan, they tout themselves as a “Japanese Kitchen,” yet they throw in some Chinese/Asian inspired menu items because authentic “Oriental food for all.”
(Room for failure)BobaTaiwanese
Spring RollsSpring RollsChinese/SE Asian
Clam ChowderClam ChowderAmerican
Asian BBQ Meatballs– FAIL – Just crap
Teriyaki ChickenTeriyaki ChickenJapanese-American
Sweet Chili Shrimp– FAIL – Chinese-American
Original BeefOriginal BeefJapanese
Grilled Steak– FAIL – Just crap
Habanero ChickenHabanero ChickenJust crap
Grilled Tilapia– FAIL – Just crap
(Room for failure)New: Teriyaki Grilled RibeyeJapanese-American
(Room for failure)“Tempura” orange chicken Chinese-American
(Room for failure)Teriyaki SalmonJapanese-American
So in about 5-6 years, 3 out of 7 items were a success. Also, come on “tempura” orange chicken, who do they think they are fooling? If this is a Japanese thing, where in Japan do they do tempura orange chicken?

I have never seen a company so lost in its vision or direction, and they rely primarily on Chinese American food culture, which do not reflect a Japanese or a Japanese kitchen.

In branding, I write up creative briefs that outline core brand attributes that you have to adhere to and Yoshinoya America is devoid of this.

BTW, if the menu was not bad enough, on their website, they did not remove the “learn more” from their WordPress theme which depicts a button although it’s a mouseover for “more information,” come on people.

Photo Description: Yoshinoya boba.
This is Yoshinoya in 2023, doing Taiwanese boba (trying to compete with the Chinese). When will they do something Japanese, like a matcha slushy?

It is all about the gyudon at the Yoshinoya in Japan

The secret to Yoshinoya’s success vs. Yoshinoya America is that Yoshinoya Japan only does Japanese food for Japanese people since 1899.

Photo Description: a picture of my gyudon set when I was in Shinjuku, Japan. The set comes with a bowl of gyudon with beni shoga on top, pickled cabbage, and a small bowl with a raw egg in it.
This is what everybody knows Yoshinoya for, gyudon aka “beef bowl” (this was in Shinjuku after a night out).

Gyudon or gyu (beef) don (bowl) is what Yoshinoya is all about. It is savory dish that is not doused in teriyaki sauce like Americanized food chains (teriyaki sauce is not Japanese and it is Japanese-American).

In 2022, Yoshinoya cites a “Growing respect for Japan’s food culture” in their annual report, but their core focus was to chase a demographic that does not care.

I liked gyudon, I still like gyudon, but I do not go out and eat the gyudon at Yoshinoya America.  If you want to know why, just look at what you get for ¥380M-¥680XL ($3.35-$5.99) at Yoshinoya in Japan which is gyudon done right… I should make a calendar diary of all the times I have eaten it because I like gyudon that much (do you?, do you like gyudon?!?).

Whenever you know somebody is incompetent or a complete tool, people in the South be like “bless their heart.” Well, whoever panda’ized Yoshinoya in the U.S., bless your heart

It might not solely be Yoshinoya America’s fault, and they might not have any autonomy with what they can do which sucks for them, and if that is the case, bless their heart in the good polite Southern way. If not, read on about my utter disappointment with “you people.”

If you were to ask the previous CEO of Yoshinoya America what is a brand? He would not know based on what he has done to the Yoshinoya brand in the United States (he pulled a Disney with their handling of the Star Wars IP/brand).

Why would you base a brand around a bowl? You are not a dinnerware company selling bowls. Now, poor, Jon Gilliam, CEO of Yoshinoya America has to deal with the mess over at Yoshinoya because he came on board on January of 2021, good luck dude.

Yoshinoya America vs. Yoshinoya Japan Menu Pricing

Of course this Yoshinya men comparison is not an apples to apples comparison, but it will give you a basic idea of how different the brand and experience is from the US vs Japan.

$8.99 Teriyaki Chicken657-877 yen ($4.91-$6.55) Fried Chicken Meal
$8.99 Hanabi Hot Grilled Chicken503-822 yen ($3.76-$6.14), Fried Chicken Bowl
$8.99 Original Beef426-856 yen ($3.18-$6.40), Beef Bowl
$8.99 Habanero Chicken393-823 yen ($2.94-$6.15), Pork Bowl
$10.49 New: Teriyaki Grilled Ribeye547 yen ($4.09), Black Beef Curry
$8.99 Tempura orange chicken 657 yen ($4.91), Beef and Salmon Meal
$10.49 Teriyaki Salmon998 yen ($7.46), Broiled Eel
For a great write-up on Yoshinoya Japan’s menu, check out
Photo Description: The Yoshinoya Japan menu has all the Yoshinoya items they are known for such as beef bowl, salacia beeef bowl, beef onion bowl, komosara, new pork bowl, pork shrimp bowl, pig kimchi bowl, pork sliced pot on rice, black curry, beech black curry, cheese black  curry, and veggie black curry.
Yea, who in the U.S. eats pork or beef, so bring on the sweet chili shrimp and tilapia, WTF

Beef, pork, and vegetables are the primary ingredients for Yoshinoya throughout Asia. All are served donburi style (in a bowl) for less than $7. Whereas the US is doing shrimp, salmon, and tilapia for $11, which goes against the Yoshinoya motto (brand) “Tasty, low-priced, and quick.”

Such a simple menu like at In’n’Out (served in a wrapper or on a tray) does not overcomplicate itself like the Yoshinoya America menu.

Tilapia is used in the U.S. because it is very inexpensive product which is very mild in taste since most Americans do not like their fish being “fishy” although most demand that their beef be “beefy,” men “manly,” and women “girly.”

Photo Description: an interior shot of Yoshinoya Kumamoto, Japan. The interior is a clean and contemporary, light colored walls with dark furniture. There are a number of bar height tables with self serve condiments and water pitchers.
Yoshinoya in Kumamoto, Japan from 2011 makes you feel like you have not failed in life eating there, unlike the interiors in the U.S. Image used under Creative Commons.

This is how I wish Yoshinoya America should have been. Yes, I know, we can’t always get everything we want, and my love life is a reflection of that

Anything you do is always about wherewithal with a big dash of humility, and I could be totally oblivious of the factors that the management is up against although I’m merely saying how I wish things could be as a Yoshinoya fan (let me know if you agree with any of this).

  • What is in a name: Yoshinoya America has not had success outside of L.A. because there is no reason or appeal for anybody to go out of their way to try a place called “Yoshinoya.” For a vast majority of Americans it means absolutely nothing because that would be like opening a restaurant called “Yekaterinburg” or “Bloemfontein.”
  • Brand equity: what a huge missed opportunity to carry on over the clout of the Yoshinoya brand from Japan. There is so much brand asset within the Asian community with one of the largest gyudon restaurant chains in Japan, but they did not bother to capitalize on it at all. Instead, they try to start from scratch to try and appeal to a completely new market primarily based on price/spreadsheet (how does this make sense, it doesn’t).

The reason why Yoshinoya is so bad in the United States. It is because the Yoshinoya America management has decided to target a demographic that has no clue where Japan is located on a map or what Japanese food is (the menu reflects that).

The demographics of the United States is very diverse country by race and ethnicity. We are not same a homogenous country like Japan (just like all Asians are not all Chino’s, no mamas guey).
  • Who thinks shrimp and steak when you hear “low-priced”: Yoshinoya’s tagline is “tasty, low-priced and quick food.” So how is it that they do shrimp (seafood) and steak? Even gyudon itself was a low-cost beef because they most likely utilize the navel end brisket. Using affordable cuts is what gyudon is supposed to be about, yet it doesn’t appear that way for Yoshinoya America. So should we expect cheap sushi, escargot, and lobster to be added to the menu soon?
  • Demographics: not you, myself, or your mom.
  • Who are they targeting: they must be targeting people who want low-priced food regardless if it is honey walnut shrimp, teriyaki beef, pho, hot and sour soup, or tom yum guy (you know, Chinese, Japanese, or oriental food, it’s all the same).
  • Pandanoya Express (where’s the Japanese food?): In the Asian community in L.A., there is “Asian food for Asian people,” and “Asian food for you know, those other people.” As for Yoshinoya, they are trying too hard to cater to anything but Asian people. So I got to wonder, do they not realize catering to first generation immigrants is an ideal way of establishing a base till the surrounding communities catches on (I guess you wouldn’t know if you’re from a homogenous country like Japan).
  • Locations: your hood, gated communities, or the scary part of town.

If they wanted to do the ideal location, it would be: in L.A.’s Little Tokyo, but instead of their “Chino’noya Express”, they would do an exact replica of a shop in Tokyo with the same signage (eigo/nihongo), menu, etc.

I can bet you this would become the highest grossing store in the U.S. Not to mention, if they stayed opened till 2-3 am (bar hours), this would be a halo (a destination) attraction.
  • Existing fan base: how many Yoshinoya’s are located directly in Japanese/Asian areas? From, the ones I have researched, barely a few (to zero, if you were to consider direct communities, but they are all indirectly in Ktown). Yea, Yoshinoya has never thought to cater directly to an existing customer base such as inside of a Mitsuwa Marketplace (like Santouka does), Japan Town Sawtelle (like Shin Sen Gumi, Daiso, to Manpuku does), Little Tokyo (like Curry House to Chinchikurin does), to strip malls like Diamond Jamboree in Irvine (like Pepper Lunch, Kura Sushi, to Tokyo Table does). That way, they could have stuck exactly to their existing menu and interior/exterior design (Kura sushi did this) from Japan because of the amount of existing Asians, Japanese, and Japanese-Americans who are already familiar with and are open to the brand/food.
  • The nihonjin/Yoshinoya America approach: it feels like every single big Japanese restaurant group that moves into the U.S. (Tokyo Table/Toridoll, Oto-Oto/Ramla, to Yoshinoya), comes off somehow like they think they are a big deal (or going to be), so they choose large freestanding locations throughout the country as if most Americans care. What happens, is that they soon find out that most don’t care, and they end up closing these locations.
  • Makeovers: in September of 2017 Yoshinoya was hyping up their sales increase over the industry-wide decline, but I don’t believe that the Q2, 2017 hype is sustainable, and I think it’ll be a superficial bump in revenue because of their Q1(?) facelift. You can also decide for yourself, here’s a link to their annual reports.

Somebody didn’t get the memo that Yoshinoya America should be doing Japanese food.

How hard is that to do? Well hard for YA.
  • What part of this menu exemplifies “Japanese Kitchen?” Not much (so much fail): they over complicated the menu which is too far off from the Yoshinoya brand, and the menu is non-sensical to anybody familiar with Japanese food. Only their prospective market that doesn’t understand the difference between Chinese or Japanese would be receptive to this menu. So if they don’t want to do Japanese food, why didn’t they just call themselves “Asian kitchen” with a menu full of Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, to Korean dishes (this would do well).
  • Yoshinoya, Matsuya, Sukiya: one of Yoshinoya’s competitors needs to come to the States and takeover the gyudon market (I’m talking to you Matsuya or Sukiya). Yoshinoya has done a watered down version of their brand for non-Asians, so another chain needs to come in and clean up the gyudon market because there’s a huge potential for a legit donburi/gyudon restaurant. If not, the Flame Broiler will fill the need because they’re a 23-year-old company (vs. 31-years-old) with 180 locations (vs. 101).

“Well, move to Hong Kong then!”

I will do that. Well, I’d rather visit because I bet Yoshinoya in Hong Kong has a lot stronger leadership, a visionary, or that it is just simply easier to appeal to other Asians with Japanese food. One reason they don’t get a watered down menu like we do.

Photo Description: The Hong Kong Yoshinoya menu. On a black background there 16 bowls and a number of plates depicted. Many of them have beef bowl, tonkatsu, tonkatsu curry, to udon.
So….. in Hong Kong, no sign of sweet chili shrimp or tilapia.

Yoshinoya America fixates on the things that customers do not care about, like hyping up things in a bowl while the rest of the world is focused on what is in the bowl.

Imagine if McDonalds and Taco Bell were to base their entire brand around serving things in a wrapper (well, the vast majority of fast food does, minus the cardboard box at “fancier joints.”
Photo Description: Yoshinoya in Hong Kong designed by AS-Design. This interior is cool AF because it's a dark black balls contrasted with white walls are accented by orange accents from the chairs, front desk, to the opening of the kitchen.
The redesign of the Hong Kong locations by AS Design, dope AF.

Try comparing the locations in Hong Kong or Japan (cool) to the U.S. (generic, even the redesign).

Yoshinoya America or a pickled herring fast-food chain

If Yoshinoya does not work out, I’m sure all these locations will be snatched right up by a Norwegian pickled herring fast-food chain.

Photo Description: The Yoshinoya on alvarado street via google maps. Surrounding the Yoshinoya is a bunch of street vendors, a busted up Chevy Astro van, a 99 cent store, and a number of people on the street.
When I’m out shopping at a dollar store, I’m thinking Russian, Nigerian, or Japanese food for lunch. If that is you, head on over to Alvarado st., in Los Angeles because apparently to Yoshinoya management knows we all want a diverse ethnic diet.

Es obvio a quién se dirige Yoshinoya en Los Ángeles, por lo que no sorprende que no hayan podido expandirse más allá de Los Ángeles.

It is obvious who Yoshinoya is targeting in Los Angeles, which is why it is no shocker why they have not been able to expand beyond Los Angeles.

Come make it a day out of a visit to “Chino’noya” with a stop off at the .99 Cents Only store, Boost mobile (got to be able to text my boo), Dollar Tree, Ross, and the Fallas Discount stores nearby.

Photo Description: The Yoshinoya on Olympic and Alameda which is a corner location with a prominent drive-thru location.
Olympic and Alameda, in Los Angeles is a convenient location if you happen to work in the surrounding industrial area.

Anywhere from 4th to 7th would have been a good location, but nawwwww, they had to locate four blocks away in an isolated industrial area.

Photo Description: The Yoshinoya Whittier and Spence location is part of a strip mall with a corner location.
If you’re a .99 Cent Only store shopper, you’ll be happy to know that the Whittier and Spence, in Los Angeles has one across the street.

Why surburban sized freestanding locations? Because Yoshinoya thinks they are a big deal, like McDonald’s or Taco Bell. Yet they do not get most Americans don’t care because Japan and Beijing are the same country.

A number of large restaurant groups from Japan (Toridoll) have failed in the US and it is really apparent why – they are oblivious to the market, but logistics to execution are less dependent on understanding the American culture.

Yoshinoya America is always nearby a .99 Cents Only stores, yet they can’t target Daiso stores?

Photo Description: a free standing Yoshinoya location in Tustin via Google maps. There's a large parking lot with ample parking space.
There are a number of Japanese restaurants in this area, so this is not an entirely bad area although it is still a large freestanding building in a remote area, Newport Ave, in Tustin, in Orange County – Google Maps.

When in Murica, you go big, like an XXXL shirt.

Photo Description: One of the newer Yoshinoya locations. This locations employs the new look of Yoshinoya America which has their stupid bowl logo with the words "Yoshinoya Japanese Kitchen"
In the words of Yoshinoya America “Yoshinoya’s Japanese Kitchen remodel embraces an open concept and invites the guest to personalize their orders and to watch as their food is being prepared.” So basically the Chipotle model. (PRNewsfoto/Yoshinoya America).

Number of Yoshinoya/*Setagaya outlets

Yoshinoya’s stagnant growth: In about 7 years, they have had no significant growth.

2022107 (*104/3?)
According to Yoshinoya Holdings Corporate Report 2021 – 2022. After 48 years this is their total outlets, and I wonder how many of them are corporate owned (70?) vs. franchised (only 30?).

For investors this is what they tout “The Company’s first foray into the U.S. was in 1975, when it opened its first outlet in Denver. We operate outlets mainly on the West Coast, and have expanded from the conventional outlet model to Japanese- kitchen-style (with a picture of their orange chicken) outlets offering prepared-to-order dishes, gaining the support of new customers.”

In 1975, Yoshinoya opened its first outlet in Denver, which is long gone, and an ex-employee went on to open a chain based on Yoshinoya called Kokoro, which also owns Red Bird Farms. That is impressive and how it is done right.

I remember as a wee little kid they were called Beef Bowl in Denver, so they must have survived till the 80s?

*Setagaya is a chain of ramen shops that Yoshinoya own exclusively in New York (East Village, Williamsburg, and Industry City): their domain name is exclusive to New York, vs. the US, and I guess they do not expect to expand the brand beyond NY like how Yoshinoya has not expanded beyond CA (far from being “America” because it is only California).

The Yoshinoya America redesign

If you see a bowl when you look at their new mark, you’re right. It’s their new creative solution by Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv to have you associate everything Yoshinoya does with a bowl (it’s working because they even call their plates, bowls). The exterior and interior refresh is by Shea Design, all very nice (very neutral though).

Photo Description: a rendering of the Yoshinoya exterior.
“What can we cook for you?” How about some Japanese food for starters.

How long until that new car smell wears off? Not long because that orange chicken air freshener is not going to help.

Photo Description: a screenshot of the Yoshinoya USA website of the location locater.
There is only one state Yoshinoya is located in, and only two major metro areas, yet they got you guessing where they are at.

This is what you can expect from a company where they own 70 out of the 101 locations which is ineptitude because they can’t even get a store locator right (all they had to do was add “Los Angeles Metro and Cupertino only”). They did not do that, so I have listed all the Yoshinoya locations to make finding a location easier. In 5-6 years, the company has refused to provide me the list or fix their locator.

The takeaway about the Yoshinoya America experience

Yoshinoya in the United States could be everything people love about Yoshinoya (the “Yoshinoya experience”), but the big wigs are solely focused on their spreadsheets and demographic data. The psychographics of who and why people like myself love Yoshinoya do not even seem like we are even considered which is why this is my plea to Yoshinoya America to get with the rest of the family, or they should be disowned – tough love is in order *hug* (I even fully leaned in on the hug).

Branding is not graphic design, and branding helps manage your customer’s expectations, and how do you know Yoshinoya America has failed to do that? When you open and close all your outlets in Colorado, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and New York, and the only locations left are in California, for obvious reasons.

They have failed to do Japanese food, and they should officially be called Chino’noya Express.
  • Pros: a strong domestic brand with a substantial presence throughout Asia such as in Hong Kong and 225 locations just in Beijing, China.
  • Cons: Yoshinoya America’s loose interpretation and deviation of the Yoshinoya brand is a detriment to the overall brand because of the lackluster vision/misguided approach of “we serve things in bowls brand, yaaayyy!”

EDIT 5/1/2020: I started a petition to Yoshinoya America to open a replica of one their Japanese Yoshinoya locations in Los Angeles Japantown/Little Tokyo.

You can help make that happen by signing this petition (yea, it’s a long shot).

Yoshinoya America, Inc. aka Chino’noya

According to their annual financial report, there are currently 101 locations in California. I’m sure the Costa Mesa, Harbor location was 102, but now it’s a 7 Leaves Cafe.
Locations: Los Angeles metro area and Cupertino, California (I did a better job than the Yoshinoya website).

Yoshinoya Holdings, Inc. (Parent Company)

There are currently 1,205 locations domestically with a total of 3,335 restaurants in 11 countries located throughout the world. Yoshinoya holdings also owns and operates Arcmeal, Kyotaru, and HanaMaru (their four brands).

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