[From January Issue 2011]
Workstore Tokyo Do Co., Ltd.
A t a square in front of an office building in Otemachi, Tokyo is a cluster of small food vans known as Neo Yatai Mura (Neo Stall Village). Each van sells its own special kind of takeout, such as curry, Chinese, or Japanese food. Operating only during lunch time on weekdays, these food vans are gaining popularity among those working in the area. The business is run by Workstore Tokyo Do Co., Ltd.
Company President UKAWA Kiyoharu himself used to sell hot dogs from a van that he had taken over from his father. He says, “At first, I was selling hot dogs at music and other such events. But before long, I started my own company supplying food vans to similar events. Then one thing led to another and I established Neo Stall Village in several business districts.” Now, the company operates in more than 20 such locations around Tokyo. However, when the second location opened in Marunouchi after the initial one was well received, it didn’t attract many customers.
“I discussed it with the shop owners and then printed 40,000 flyers with coupons. For two weeks I handed out the flyers by walking around office buildings near Tokyo Station. As a result, so many customers came that they had to wait in line,” Ukawa recalls. Currently, 200 food vans are registered to his company. “There are over 100 kinds of dishes available. Take curry for example; we have Thai curry, Indian curry, and many others,” he explains.
One characteristic of Neo Yatai Mura is that each stall (van) has special dishes that it’s proud of, including local specialties rarely found in Tokyo, unique dishes full of original ideas, and authentic foreign cuisine prepared by shop owners from abroad. Moreover, the meals are cheaper than those from other local eateries in the area, and since different stalls are set up on different days, it offers various options to choose from, which Ukawa thinks is another reason why there are so many repeat customers.
The company recently launched two new projects. One is Neo Ponte (Neo Style Store), which is run inside a shopping center in Chiba Prefecture. Requested to build stalls indoors, “we ask business managers who own shops elsewhere to open stalls for a limited period of time.” With shops changing every three months, this system can keep offering new items, which is its strongest selling point.
Another project was the establishment of a department specializing in sales and repairs of food vans. Ukawa says, “I had wanted to help prospective owners to start up their own food van business, which led me to start this project. Rather than just selling and repairing food vans, I always start by telling customers about the challenges and risks involved in this business. We are also planning to rent out vans so that people can first try experiencing this business for themselves.”
Through its food van business, the company has contributed to revitalizing some areas and re-energizing the local people there. This past summer Ukawa held the Kitchen Car Championship, conducting customer surveys that asked which Neo Stall Village shop was the best. “I have been able to conduct this business thanks to the support of the people I’ve met. It’s such a wonderful thing when pleasing others is your job. In the future, I would like to open a food stall museum. My goal is to accomplish something that will go down in history,” he declares.