Monthly Archives: August 2008

Mr. Tofu—Yasuo Kumoda

I read Yasuo Kumoda’s autobiography, They Call ME “Mr. Tofu.”  That was a pretty interesting book. Kumoda created a spin-off company in the states from a Japanese major milk manufacturer, Morinaga. He started a tofu business from scratch in 1985. Soy products were regarded as a pet food at that time. Nobody cared about tofu. Even thieves who broke into their warehouse left without stealing anything! Rocky Aoki advised him that he should be a “walking billboard” himself. He had to be a tofu evangelist. Then, Kumoda challenged himself and became “Mr. Tofu.” He worked so hard to get recognition in the new market. Gradually, people stop calling tofu “soybean curd” and tofu appears in the Webster Dictionary. Finally, in 1999, some tofu was stolen from his warehouse. He showed dissatisfaction on the outside, but he was very happy on the inside…Now, tofu has become a popular health food and Kumoda received an award from the Japanese government this year. He managed to educate American customers from head to tofu…

Rocky Aoki

Rocky Aoki, who was a former Olympic wrestler and founded the Benihana chain restaurant, died of pneumonia a couple of weeks ago in New York. He was 69. I didn’t witness the height of his career. But, I have read his sake book, Water from Heaven, and a Harvard Business School business case study about his business. I developed my ideas of launching a food business through the readings while I was in the states(I haven’t started it, though.) In the HBS case, Rocky said “In 1959, I came to the US on a tour with my university wrestling team. I was 20 at the time. When I reached New York, it was love at first sight!” After a three-year systematic research on the US market, He started his restaurant business in the states with his family’s help. His father, Yunosuke Aoki, owned a chain of restaurants in Tokyo, called Benihana. Rocky took over the entrepreneurship, operations, and cooking skills from his family’s tradition. Also, he learned from his research that food storage and wastage contribute significantly to the overhead of a typical American restaurant, according to the case study. Therefore, he limited the menu only to three American popular items: steak, chicken, and shrimp. He knew the business! All the restaurant interior décor was gathered from old houses and shipped from Japan in search of authenticity. His business had a very good start and the rest of the history was all you know. He is the first person who brought the entertainment to the Japanese tables in the states. I was greatly amazed by his strategy and business skills when I first read the case study. I hope Japanese restaurateurs can learn a lot from his life and ventures. Thank you, Rocky! You are the rock.