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Bonchon and Kura Sushi Thrive in the Fast-Casual Scene

Bracha Arnold
July 17, 2023
Bonchon and Kura Sushi Thrive in the Fast-Casual Scene

Bonchon Chicken and Kura Revolving Sushi Bar are two popular fast-casual chains that offer diners something they can't get elsewhere. Both originated in Asia – Bonchon first established itself as a sauce company in South Korea, coming to the U.S. in 2006, while Kura Sushi started in Japan and opened its first U.S. location in 2009

The two restaurants have met with marked success on American soil, bringing new dining concepts to local food lovers. We took a closer look at their recent performance and what sets these chains apart. 

Bonchon Outdoing the Competition

In 1993, food writer and critic Ruth Reichl wondered why Americans weren’t interested in Korean food, writing that “of all the Asian cuisines, Korean is most accessible to the American palate.” Thirty years later, it looks like diners have come around – Korean food and culture has never been more popular. 

Bonchon has been reaping the benefits of this popularity, with the chain offering a unique double-fried, spicy, and flavorful chicken experience that has won fans across the country. Monthly visits to Bouchon were up by double-digits almost every month of H1 2023 relative to H1 2022 – significantly larger year-over-year (YoY) monthly visit jumps than in the wider fried chicken category. This strength may account for the company’s expansion goals – Bonchon aims to double its 120-unit footprint over the next five years, with 30 locations planned for the remainder of 2023 alone. 

Kura Sushi Shows Promising Growth 

Kura Revolving Sushi Bar, which first opened in the U.S. in 2009 after over 30 years of experience in Japan, has tapped into the enduring popularity of Japanese cuisine – especially sushi – and streamlined the dining process while leaning into technology. The company is introducing American audiences to the concept of conveyor-belt sushi – called kaiten-sushi in Japanese – which allows diners to grab plates of sushi as they sail past them on a conveyor belt that winds through the restaurants. Speed and convenience are hallmarks of kaiten dining, and Kura even makes use of robot servers, letting customers feel as though they have been transported straight to Japan.

And location analytics suggest that consumers are seeking that sort of experience. Monthly traffic to the chain in H1 2023 has consistently exceeded last year’s levels, with June seeing a whopping 12.5% year-over-year (YoY) increase in visits, compared to just a 3.9% increase, on average, to sushi and ramen chains nationwide. 

Young, Affluent Clientele for Bonchon and Kura

Bonchon and Kura share more than just enviable YoY visit numbers and Asian-inspired fare. The two chains also seem to target real estate in areas with a relatively affluent, young clientele.   

Analyzing the demographic profile of residents in Bonchon and Kura’s True Trade Area in the first half of 2023 reveals that the chains’ visitors come from areas that are both higher-income and younger than the nationwide benchmark. According to the STI:Popstats 2022 dataset, the median household income (HHI) in Bonchon and Kura’s trade areas in H1 2023 stood at $81.8K and $79.5K, respectively, compared to a median HHI of $69.5K for the U.S. as a whole. And the median age for residents of Bonchon and Kura’s trade area also skews younger than the median age nationwide.

Different On-Site Dining Experiences

Yet, beyond the similarities, the two chains also differ in significant ways – most notably in terms of the dining experience offered on-site. Kura, with its strong experiential component, draws more than twice as many average visits per venue as the typical fast-casual chain. Bonchon, on the other hand, invested heavily in developing its online order and delivery infrastructure over the pandemic. The company now even operates certain locations as takeaway-only – and Bonchon plans on emphasizing off-premise dining in future expansions as well. Bonchon’s success at delivery is likely a driving factor in the relatively small number of visits per location – the company’s venue receives, on average, less than half the visits per venue as the average fast-casual restaurant.  

Asian Dining Invasion

In the dynamic landscape of fast-casual and Asian dining, Bonchon and Kura Sushi have exceeded expectations and captured customers' hearts and taste buds while showing that there are many ways to operate successful restaurant chains in today’s dining landscape. As these brands continue to expand and innovate, Bonchon and Kura are poised to further redefine the fast-casual dining experience in the United States.

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