Yuli Miller and partner Barry Tu emptied their life savings to open Kaya Street Kitchen just last December. The reception from the neighborhood was universally positive, and the great press started rolling in for the Southeast Asian build-a-bowl concept (Doesn't sound familiar? Well, it should). Kaya even managed to dominate Yelp by rocketing to the top of the LA rankings in February.
Couple of months after the opening, some Japanese investors, perhaps driven by their love for kaya toast, dined at the fast casual shop and professed their love for the food. A week later, these repeat diners visited as a group of six and ordered everything on the menu.
One man among the group happened to be the CEO of Toridoll Japan. Toridoll, founded in the 1985 as a yakitori shop, is a publicly traded company with nearly 900 outlets of udon, seimen, teriyaki, and yakitori restaurants spread out as far as Kenya and Russia. Its 2014 annual revenue was just south of a billion U.S. dollars. In comparison, Shake Shake, with market capitalization of over two billion at the moment, generated a much smaller $118.5 million.
The CEO offered to acquire Kaya Street Kitchen on the spot
After the meal, the CEO offered to acquire Kaya Street Kitchen on the spot. In February, the two parties commenced negotiations which resulted in Toridoll, most well known in the U.S. for Marukame Udon shops in Hawaii, investing in a majority stake of Kaya Street Kitchen this May. Tu will be CEO of the new Kaya brand under Toridoll, with Miller as Chief Operating Officer. The two brands will become equal operating partners.
Even more unusual, Toridoll USA, which also owns the Tokyo Table and Tokyo Bento brands, shuttered Tokyo Bento in Aliso Viejo in Orange County, and began rebranding it immediately Kaya Street Kitchen before the capital injection was completed. The ink wasn't even dry on the contract, but Kaya Street Kitchen Orange County opened on May 23.
Chef Johnny Lee (Eggslut, Ramen Champ) was brought on board as culinary product development chef two months ago, and new, exotic proteins (please, oh please let there be Hainan chicken) are in the short-term pipeline. A breakfast menu is also on the way.
The executive team, literally only two weeks after the opening of its second branch, does not know what the next location will be yet, but Toridoll's vision for Kaya is simple: conquer the build-a-bowl world, with Chipotle's Shophouse Kitchen as the obvious first target. The parties have committed to open 100 stores in 5 years, and with the rapid turnaround of Kaya Street Kitchen OC, it's hard to doubt the powers of Toridoll's restaurant-making machine.