Restaurant / Retail Executive: Claudine Chan-Cobankiat, Kichitora of Tokyo and Qrius

Introducing Claudine Chan-Cobankiat, Managing Director of Kichitora of Tokyo a 3 location restaurant chain as well as Qrius a small retail chain in the Philippines.

claudine chan1. You are in both, restaurants and retail – can you tell us a bit more about them? 
Yes, we have Kichitora of Tokyo – a ramen chain from Japan with 3 branches at the 2F SM Megamall Atrium, 2F Glorietta 5 and 4F Bonifacio Central Square. Our ramens are differentiated from all competitors because we use pure chicken broth – it not only tastes good but is also good for your health. We also just recently opened our one-off concept called Hajime at the G/F Edades Tower, Rockwell, which focuses on crossover cuisine.
For retail, I manage a small retail store called Qrius. It started as a fun project for me and my sister, Charlene, who now lives in New York. The concept involves sourcing products that we use everyday that comes with added functionality. For example, we are the distributors of Zing Anything, a company that creates water bottles with the added functionality of infusing your water with fruits and herbs. We have 2 locations at the 3F Powerplant Mall, and 4F SM Mega Fashion Hall.

2. When it comes to choosing locations, how do you do it?  (mall? street level? foot traffic? what do you think about?)
We generally choose based on current mall success, meaning there is established foot traffic. Street level is usually better but if upper floors have a good enough attraction and easy access, we consider it too (for example, cinema levels). Another important consideration is access to parking and access during rain.

Kitchitora Manila
3. Will you ever take a sub-par location, if it is in an area you want to be in? or will you wait for the right spot?
We’ve learned to wait for the right spot unless it’s a ridiculously good deal.

4. At what point did the number of stores change how the business is run? I have been told, 1 or 2 stores is ok, but 3+ requires a different management approach, systems, procedures, etc. What was the tipping point?
Yes, you are right. 3 stores was the tipping point for Kichitora as well. Specifically, we had to implement more strict reporting systems. We had to create quality controls teams and overall field operations managers to make sure everything is how it should be and management is informed.

5. What challenges do you have operating retail business in the Philippines?
To us, it’s always been with manpower and inventory. There are many systems that can minimize human error or theft, but as the saying goes, if there’s a will, there’s a way. As with any business, having the right team to achieve your goal is essential.

6. How do you come up with names for your stores?
It has always been based on inspiration or we just think of something that defines the brand in one word.

7. From an HR point of view, what do you do that is unique when it comes to hiring, retaining and growing your workforce?
Usually in our industry, it is considered normal for work to simply be a stepping stone for the staff towards other opportunities. At our companies, we try our best to instill a sense of home and growth as best we can. In short, if you are good, we want to keep you.

Other restaurant and retail executive interviews:

Executive Interview: Russell Yu, IKI Concepts – a Singapore restauranteur talks about bringing his brands into the Philippines and is unique take on attracting talent.

Restaurant Executive: Adrien Desbaillets, President SaladStop! – a Singapore chain talks about opening in the Philippines and his restaurant expansion.

Restaurant Executive: Andrew Masigan, The Advent Manila Hospitality Group – a Philippine restauranteur talks about his experience growing restaurants in Manila.

Carlo Buenaflor, the CEO of Bigg’s, Inc. Carlo operates 15 restaurants in the Bicol area of the Philippines and is the honorary consul of Spain in the Bicol Region of the Philippines.

Joey Qua, CEO, Collezione-c2.com with 25 branches nationwide and a growing restaurant business.

Eileen Grey, The Picture Company a 9 location retail chain in the Philippines

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