Return of Wendy’s

This is a two-tiered post, in that I will talk about both the return of Wendy’s to Japan and also to the US market with their new burgers.

Let’s start with the new burgers then. Since I am in Japan, I haven’t tried the new burgers. A big part of the new burgers is not just the meat, the cheese and the bun (although those are all changed). A lot of attention is being paid to the toppings. The new burgers boast new pickles and mayo, while scrapping mustard (a very wise choice). There will also be fewer onions, supposedly to allow the flavor of the beef to permeate the burger.

Usually, I only get the burger with cheese and ketchup. But I’d like to try it as it comes rather than mess with taking anything off. I want to see if they really do have a better burger with all the focus on the toppings. Even if I do get just cheese and ketchup, they still want to assure me, and others like me, that the meat is juicier, thicker and ultimately better than ever. That makes me happy. While I didn’t always get cheese, I am not a big cheese fan, so if I am going to get a relatively plain cheeseburger, I would love it to be at Wendy’s.

I still can’t do that yet, but soon, Wendy’s will return to Japan. One of the biggest upsets of my time in Japan was a countrywide closing of Wendy’s, somewhat suddenly, at the end of 2009. As saddening as it was, I survived for a while without it. There’s enough fans in the country who would support Wendy’s when it returns, and that day is coming very soon. Wendy’s is expected to reopen in December in Tokyo’s classy Omotesando district. Despite having gone to many ‘burbs’ of Tokyo, this is one I have glossed over (that and Ginza). With its relative closeness to Harajuku, Shinjuku and Shibuya, I think it will be easy for me to make it over there when I do visit Tokyo again.

While the franchise will only operate one restaurant, I expect lines out the door for the first month or so. Hopefully the lines will stay because that will probably encourage them to keep expanding the franchise beyond just having one flagship branch in Tokyo. Previously, the company only had 71 stores in Japan, while giant McDonald’s has over 3,700. While most of those previous Wendy’s stores were in the Tokyo area, some of the markets it entered were peculiar, including some in Osaka and the Kobe area; interestingly, all the while, there were virtually none in Kyoto.

It would be great to have Wendy’s in more markets again. As expected, many of the vacant spots where Wendy’s used to be are now in use. I wasn’t surprised at all when I found the Sannomiya Kobe branch of Wendy’s had become another coffee shop rival to Starbuck’s. The Starbuck’s that is next door was always full in my experience, so if Starbuck’s is full, it’s easy to head right next door to another competitor. I haven’t checked the Shin-Kobe branch recently, but it had been transformed into a small ‘illimunation’ set. Actually, the whole Shin-Kobe area must have been hit hard by the economy because shops have been closing rather than opening there.

Likely, finding spots for new Wendy’s locations will be difficult, especially in downtown Tokyo where real estate is prime and every inch of space counts. We may see it succeed in more suburban like areas rather than downtown areas where McDonald’s already thoroughly succeeds. Where I live it is relatively rural. However, since my time here there has already been new stores opening in the main “downtown” area of Adogawa, if you can call it that. A new Sukiya opened the day I arrived, a new Family Mart opened only a few blocks from a different Family Mart and rivals 7-11 and Lawson and a new Shiga Bank is opening in December. Wendy’s won’t come here because a McDonald’s is already here, but it is areas like mine that have a story to share with developing chains like Wendy’s. I really think that if Wendy’s will succeed in Japan, it will do so in the suburban areas of Japan. Perhaps they would attempt what McDonald’s is already so successful in doing and just open anywhere that they see a ‘need’.

All of that being said, Burger King was only known to be in the Tokyo area until very recently. Now, they have two in Osaka and one in Kyoto. I plan on going to the Kyoto one during their all you can eat campaign during the first two weeks of November. I think Burger King opened in 2008 or so in Tokyo. Maybe 2007. That means it took them 3-4 years to expand out the Tokyo/Kanagawa/Saitama/Chiba area. Wendy’s may share the same fate of taking a while to expand out of Tokyo.

All of this may not even happen next year. I expect next year to be a trying time for Wendy’s in Japan and America. How will people respond to the new burgers? It will make or break them. It’s a big feat to completely change your burger and hope that people will like it. It’s interesting that at the very beginning of this year Wendy’s also made a similarly big change with their french fries. I loved it. Additionally, they also made significant changes to their line of salads. The Apple Pecan Chicken Salad is out of this world. It really combines every possibly good flavor into one healthy-ish package of goodness. Wendy’s didn’t see a major uprising with these changes. It now seems all the more peculiar that Arby’s is no longer a part of Wendy’s. I prefer it that way, but I wonder if it’s because there is suspicion of Wendy’s taking a turn for the worse.

I doubt it, though. Its international expansion efforts will hopefully see the company through to brighter days, at least internationally, if not domestically in the US. With all of these changes, my hope (as well as Wendy’s) is that you will give these new burgers a try. I am tired of having to go to McDonald’s for a cheeseburger. Bring Wendy’s to me, and I’ll give them a try.