Mango Tree Worldwide, the leading Thai restaurant operator, is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its operations in Japan, which has grown rapidly to become its largest global market with 24 outlets all across the “Land of the Rising Sun”.
When the company made its Japanese debut in Japan in 2002, Thai food was not especially popular in the country. Local people were not always familiar with the flavours, fragrances and, above all, the spices used in traditional Thai dishes. Fast forward two decades and Japanese people don’t only enjoy Thai cuisine as a special treat; they even grab dishes like pad krapao, khao pad and pad Thai while out shopping, during their lunchbreaks and on their way to and from work.
Key to the success of Mango Tree in Japan has been its commitment to offering highly authentic Thai cuisine in line with the changing tastes of local diners. In fact, the group has played a role in shaping Japanese tastes. For example, pungent ingredients such as kapi (shrimp paste) and even pak chi (coriander) were rarely found on Japanese menus in 2002. Now, Mango Tree creates dishes that highlight these ingredients, including a special pak chi spring roll that was crafted especially for Japanese diners.
While some aspects of the menus are still localised, Japanese diners can savour a full selection of traditional Thai dishes, including light appetisers, aromatic soups, spicy salads, curries, wok-fried dishes, fresh seafood, barbecued meats, tropical desserts and more, all crafted by Thai culinary experts or talented, fully-trained local chefs. These delicacies are accompanied by an extensive selection of beverages, including fresh fruit juices and tropical blends, cold beers, fine wines and premium whiskies.
Mango Tree has been instrumental in the promotion and development of Thai cuisine in Japan. Since the opening of its first full-service Mango Tree branded restaurant in Tokyo in 2002, the company has opened 23 new locations across the country and introduced diners to three of its industry-leading brands. One unique aspect of Mango Tree’s strategy in Japan has been its “grab and go” concepts, including Mango Tree Café and Mango Tree Kitchen. These small, convenient dining outlets offer Mango Tree’s freshly-made Thai dishes to Japanese diners on the go, focusing on areas of high footfall such as transport hubs, retail malls and lifestyle complexes.
For example, in 2017 the company opened a new Mango Tree Kitchen at Tokyo Station, its second outlet at this busy rail hub. Then in 2020, a Mango Tree Café started catering to customers at Tokyo Dome City, a major entertainment venue and amusement park located adjacent to one of the Japanese capital’s main sporting arenas. Bright, vibrant and inviting, these venues – and many others across the country – benefit from high levels of passing pedestrian traffic and a thriving lunchtime market. These concepts would not have been possible in Japan before 2002, when Thai food was only a full-service, fine-dining experience.
It is little wonder that Mango Tree has won multiple awards in Japan, including FAB Award for “Individual Food & Beverage Offer of the Year in a Railway Station” and a Thai Select award, which is granted to Thai companies that promote the kingdom’s culture overseas.
“The beauty of Mango Tree is that it spans generations. Customers’ tastes evolve and Mango Tree has evolved too, hence our success of being able to launch all our different tiers in Japan, from fine-dining to Mango Tree Cafés in malls and Mango Tree Kitchens in train stations. We’re now even launching three roadside outlets – standalone locations in the suburbs. We are the leader in Thai cuisine in Japan and look forward to expanding even further across the country in future,” said Trevor MacKenzie, Global Managing Director of Mango Tree Worldwide.
This strategy has faced challenges however, none greater than the global pandemic which had a devastating impact on Japan’s thriving dining F&B sector. Mr. MacKenzie revealed that COVID-19 “really disrupted the market in Japan” and impacted its ability to attract talent.
“During this time, Mango Tree’s focus was not as much on expansion as ensuring we have the people to deliver the product to our customers. Even though the lockdown is over, people are still hesitant to come back into the industry as there is still uncertainty. This is human nature; our business is a people business and while everyone speaks about automation, people still want a personal experience,” he explained.
Looking ahead, Mango Tree will accelerate its development strategy in Japan with new openings under a full spectrum of concepts, ranging from full-service restaurants to “grab and go” outlets. As the group’s largest global market, Japan will continue to drive the growth of Mango Tree’s portfolio as it strides confidently towards its target of operating 100 locations worldwide by 2025.