Kyushu entrepreneur hoping to tap Taiwan’s hunger for pancakes

by Ko Shu-Ling

Kyodo

A branch of the Kyushu Pancake Cafe opened in Taipei on Monday, as the Japanese business ventures into the highly competitive yet lucrative Taiwanese market.

Speaking at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in Taipei, Koji Muraoka, founder of Ippei Co., which operates the Pancake Cafe business as well as sushi restaurants and coffee shops across Kyushu, said that pancakes have a special place in his life. He described the reasoning behind the Taipei branch, saying: “I wanted to share my sweet childhood memory with the people in Taiwan.”

Muraoka said that his parents had founded their first sushi restaurant decades ago in Miyazaki Prefecture, and that while the business had kept them very busy, his mother always made pancakes during weekends or holidays.

“I still vividly remember the smell of my mother’s kitchen when she made pancakes,” he said. “For me, pancakes are something that reminds me of my mother’s cooking and that makes me feel very happy.”

A sushi master and coffee specialist himself, Muraoka joined his parents’ sushi business in 1999, taking a key role as company representative five years later, by which time the business had already begun branching out with the opening of several Tully’s Coffee branches in Miyazaki.

He opened the first Kyushu Pancake Cafe in Tokyo’s hip Daikanyama neighborhood, and began selling pancake mixes at the store and over the Internet.

Muraoka initially planned to expand the business with a second shop elsewhere in Japan, but fate brought him together with Kelvin Tsai of Chieng Kang Enterprise Co.

Tsai is the general manager of the new Taipei branch, and says he has been in love with Muraoka’s pancakes since taking the very first bite in Tokyo.

“I wanted to introduce it to Taiwan right then and right there,” Tsai said.

The key difference setting apart the products at the Kyushu Pancake Cafe is quality, he added. The pancakes themselves are made using a combination of seven grains grown in Kyushu, while decorative toppings are produced using Taiwanese ingredients, he said.

Pancakes are gaining popularity in Taiwan and are usually served at breakfast or afternoon tea — markets valued at an estimated $100 billion New Taiwan dollars ($3.2 billion) and NT$1 billion respectively, according to the Taiwan Association for Breakfast and Fast Food.

Despite a growing number of competitors, both Muraoka and Tsai are optimistic about the future of their pancake venture in Taiwan.

Tsai said his goal is to hit NT$120 million in annual revenue in the branch’s third year and open four to five more branches over the next five years.