Unless you live in San Francisco, you may not be familiar with the concept of a sushirito. They are exactly what they sound like: sushi wrapped up like a burrito. A Tokyo-based company called UBO is hoping to leverage those delicious portmanteaus to help restaurant chains build out their own Brightloom (formerly Eatsa)-like experience across Japan.
I met with UBO CEO, Takehiro “Indy” Sato, at Beeat Sushi Burrito yesterday. The restaurant opened last December near the Akihabra district in Tokyo. There are no humans to greet you at the door or take your order. There are just two people tucked away working in the kitchen. To place an order, you visit the Beeat web site (no native mobile app yet), make your selection, tell them when you want to pick it up, and pay with a credit card or Amazon Pay (more on that in a second). Then you go to Beeat Sushi where there are some tables and rows of numbered cubby holes. A screen above tells you when your order is ready and which number box to pick it up from.
But UBO’s goal is not to create a Beeat empire; the restaurant itself is more of a proof-of-concept. Instead of selling sushiritos, UBO has developed the entire system from the software platform to the cameras installed in the cubbies that read the special QR codes that identify each order. UBO wants to license its tech stack to other restaurant chains, who can then integrate the automat style of eating into their own locations.
If that sounds like
Eatsa Brightloom, well, you’re not wrong, though Sato said there are some differences between UBO and Brightloom. For one, the cubby holes at Beeat don’t have doors — the Japanese public health department wouldn’t allow them. Sato tried telling officials that other countries like the U.S. and China use doors, but the Japanese government said no.
Second, Sato isn’t repeating Brightloom’s mistake of trying to build his own restaurant chain. “We’re a tech company, not a sushi company,” Sato told me when I visited him at Beeat today.
To that end, the company has already iterated on its system and now offers a smaller version of its cubby system. Instead of taking up a wall, it’s more like a countertop display case with a tablet on the bottom. Sato says this diminutive footprint is better for restaurants in Japan, which are usually smaller. Restaurants could alleviate long lines and crowds by having people order ahead, then simply walk up and grab their food from the cubby.
Sato said UBO is fully self-funded right now, though the company is looking for venture funding to help scale up operations. Right now, UBO’s business model is to rent out its system at $2 per cubby per day with a two-year minimum contract. The company is currently running and planning tests with some unnamed customers.
I learned a few other interesting tid-bits about Beeat while chatting with Sato. Most surprising is that Amazon Pay is evidently super popular in Japan. Sato said that roughly 40 percent of his customers use Amazon Pay when paying for their meal. Additionally, UBO decided early on to not go with kiosk ordering. Sato didn’t think they were necessary after visiting the U.S. and seeing everyone just order with their phone inside Starbucks.
He also said that though they are connected with Uber Eats, only about 20 percent of their Beeat business is delivery right now. That was surprising to me because sushiritos are actually pretty perfect for delivery. They don’t have to stay hot and they come in a compact form factor that keeps the food in shape even when it’s jostled about. Most of all, they are delicious — you can tell they were developed by a Michelin-starred chef, Mizuguchi Kazuyoshi.
But people wanting to try a sushi burrito in Tokyo should do so soon, because if UBO’s licensing business takes off, there won’t be a need to keep Beeat open.