About four months ago, Ukrop's offered Hissho the chance to operate sushi bars in five stores, then compared its performance with the franchises Kyaw owns, which are part of California-based Advanced Fresh Concepts Corp., or AFC.
Sushi sales overall rose "a whopping 31 percent" over the same period last year, Warren says. The Hissho-run bars increased sales 40 percent, while AFC brought its sales up by 20 percent.
Warren, along with Ukrop's head chef and resident sushi expert, also performed taste tests on the two brands. The three agreed that the quality of Hissho was slightly higher, Warren says, while prices remained lower or comparable to AFC. And compared with AFC, Warren says, Hissho's staff demonstrate "improved customer interaction skills" and "less of a language barrier."
Kyaw is disappointed, to say the least. Ukrop's is the only place he operates franchises, because he signed an exclusive contract in 1997. He says he's concerned about where his almost 30 employees will go.
Some customers are dismayed too. "We talk sushi a lot around this store," says David Luebke, owner of Dave's Comics and Cards and a fan of Kyaw's creations. The novelties Luebke sells, like windup plastic sushi, inspire raw-fish-themed conversation from customers, he says and he's heard a few questioning the flavor change in the sushi scene.
Ukrop's reports that customers have commented favorably about the new sushi now available in five of its 18 sushi bars. Luebke says there's more to consider, however, such as Kyaw's business ethic and reliable quality.
Ben Cho, director of franchises for AFC, says his company is a pioneer. AFC began marketing prepackaged sushi on the East Coast 17 years ago and has a strict system of quality control for the fish distributed to its 1,700 franchises. "We can find other grocery stores, I suppose," Cho says, "but we don't have set plans yet."
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