[From November Issue 2010]
An increasing number of restaurants in Japan are now serving their dishes with fresh vegetables grown on-site. For example, lettuce is being grown and harvested in glass cases called “plant factories.” For restaurants, this means reduced costs and reduced waste because fresh vegetables are now available regardless of the weather, and transportation and packaging materials are no longer required. It is also popular among customers, who say that they get a sense of security from seeing how the vegetables are grown, and that their green color soothes both their eyes and thoughts.
Jackpot Planning, Ltd., which operates a number of local eateries, recently opened the Shiodome branch of the La Befana Italian restaurant chain, in the Caretta Shiodome commercial complex (Minato Ward, Tokyo). At this restaurant, leaf lettuce and red mustard grown in a plant factory on its terrace are served in its salads, on its pizza and with its meat dishes.
“Other restaurants in our group also use chemical-free vegetables, but this attempt to make vegetables with our own hands piqued my interest,” says store manager OHSHIMA Rikiya. “At this restaurant, our chefs are responsible for every step of growing our vegetables, from planting the seeds to harvesting. We provide our customers with a sense of security in knowing who produces the vegetables as well as the pleasure of seeing how they grow.”
In 2010, Dentsu Works Inc., which operates Caretta Shiodome, started selling the plant factory as “the Chef’s Farm.” The main product feature is that it can be installed in most restaurants. Water containing liquid fertilizer, light provided by fluorescent tubes and a computer-maintained room temperature of 19 degrees Celsius enable vegetables to be harvested within 32 days. Currently, four kinds of leafy vegetables are grown at the restaurant, with a total of 60 heads being reaped daily. Not only are these vegetables as nutritious and delicious as normal vegetables, but, they are crunchier because they are extremely fresh.
Meanwhile, SUBWAY JAPAN, INC., which operates the Japanese franchises of the international sandwich company, opened their own “Yasai (vegetable) Lab Maru Building Store” in Marunouchi, Tokyo, in July. After a successful five-day trial run event in October 2009, the new store has now become the first of 33,000 outlets across the world to be equipped with a plant factory, within which they started growing curly lettuce.
ITOH Akira, Subway Japan’s Chief Executive Officer, who has been promoting his vegetable-friendly brand, says: “Plant factories in Japan still have only limited success in terms of business. So as a chain with outlets nationwide, we wanted to provide a business model.” Around the same time, Subway Japan learned that Leave a Nest Co., Ltd., a venture company established in 2002 by science and engineering graduate students, was developing a plant factory, so Subway Japan launched the project.
The lettuce’s taste and crunchiness was well-received, and the store expects to harvest 50 heads of curly lettuce each month, the amount they need to make 100 sandwiches. Located in a business district, the store is frequented by office workers, who look curiously at the plant factory and even take photographs of it.