Kushikatsu Tanaka's multi-million-dollar dish, thanks to a father's recipe

An assortment of kushikatsu skewers at Kushikatsu Tanaka. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
An assortment of kushikatsu skewers at Kushikatsu Tanaka. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Interior of one of Kushikatsu Tanaka's 146 outlets in Japan. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Interior of one of Kushikatsu Tanaka's 146 outlets in Japan. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Kushikatsu Tanaka reported $4 million in operating profit for the year ended November. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Kushikatsu Tanaka reported $4 million in operating profit for the year ended November. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Kushikatsu Tanaka serves the traditional Osaka dish of lightly battered, deep-fried meats and vegetables skewered on bamboo. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Kushikatsu Tanaka serves the traditional Osaka dish of lightly battered, deep-fried meats and vegetables skewered on bamboo. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Deep-fried food is addictive. Deep-fried food on a stick - well, you would think that is a winning formula. And it certainly is the case for a Japanese kushikatsu chain, which recently went public in Japan and found its share price gaining more than 50 per cent. 

The rocketing share price has made a multi-millionaire of its vice-president, Hiroe Tanaka, 46. 

The university dropout and fan of kushikatsu has her late father to thank for her current success. The business, valued at US$82 million (S$114.2 million), is powered by her father's recipe, according to a Bloomberg report. Ms Tanaka owns 4 per cent of the company, which means she is worth more than US$3 million. 

Tanaka told Bloomberg in an interview that her favourite food as a child was this classic Osaka street food, which comprises assorted meat and vegetables skewered on bamboo, lightly battered and deep-fried. The sticks are accompanied by a savoury-sweet dipping sauce. 

Ms Tanaka's father would make the perfect kushikatsu for her. When he died when she was 21, she tried without success to replicate his speciality. 

She went to work for Kushikatsu Tanaka's president Keiji Nuki at eateries that he owned and tried to cook kushikatsu. But Mr Nuki's businesses floundered when the 2008 global financial crisis hit. 

Just as she was on the verge of quitting the business, she discovered her father's handwritten and much-corrected recipe for kushikatsu tucked into a box of notes and mementoes. 

So in December, 2008, the duo decided to open a restaurant serving kushikatsu in a quiet Tokyo suburb. Despite the off-the-beaten track location, customers flocked to the shop. Lines formed outside the shop till 1am in the morning. 


Kushikatsu Tanaka reported US$2.9 million in operating profit for the year ended November. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

When the business grew into three outlets and attracted copycats, Ms Tanaka and Mr Nuki decided to franchise their store. Now the chain boasts 146 branches across Japan, and there are plans to open 40 more this year. 

The company reported US$2.9 million in operating profit for the year ending November 2016, a 57 per cent increase from the previous 12 months, Bloomberg reported. And analysts expect share prices to increase by 17 per cent over the next year. 

Ms Tanaka told Bloomberg: "I pay tribute to my father every day. It all happened because of the recipe.”