With today’s opening of Wise Sons Tokyo, Evan Bloom can finally says he’s big in Japan. “I’ve always wanted to say that,” the SF deli and bagel chain’s co-owner jokes, referencing the ’70s phrase for foreign bands that found favor with Japanese audiences. But for Bloom’s five-location Jewish food empire, a Tokyo branch “isn’t a financial windfall” or a play for international glory — at least not yet.
“What it’s really about is, if it’s successful, and we grow, it’s a consistent profit, and we can grow the strength of our brand internationally.” Wise Sons Tokyo is a “pet project,” but one in which the eventual size of the pet isn’t clear.
Bloom is just the latest SF restaurant owner to try his international luck in Asia: Blue Bottle’s own expansion to Japan in 2015 proved highly successful. Last month, Tartine opened in Soeul, and B. Patisserie has announced plans to do the same. The process follows a formula, and it starts with networking. Bloom struck up talks to kill time during his wife’s business trip to Japan four years ago. “You get introduced to a fixer, who essentially works for landlords, and they look to find great concepts around the world. They match you with landlords and operating partners.”
Wise Sons eventually found Giraud Operating systems, which operates a branch of the SF Italian restaurant A16. “Our first meeting was at A16 Tokyo — that’s kinda the flagship for them, and I know Shelley [Lindgren, of A16] here in SF. So it was easy to go in, and say, ‘wow, — this is pretty good!’ and then talk to Shelley.”
Wise Sons Tokyo is located in the Marunouchi neighborhood of Tokyo, at 26 2-4-1 Marunouchi Chiyoda-ku Tokyo 100-6390. It’s a business area sometimes known as Mitsubishi village, near law offices and a central train station. There, Wise Sons will share its traditional boiled bagels and deli meats with diners for whom the items might be a complete novelty.
Giraud hired a young staff of about 40, all but two of whom are women. “They’ve trained them from scratch and it’s awesome how quickly they’ve learned our operation,” Bloom wrote from Tokyo, where he’s in town for the opening. “Most of what we’ve seen is really just how efficient [the people] are here, and how they’ve built such a beautiful space that really feels like SF.”
To help achieve that result, the brand even brought over SF muralist Amos Goldbaum, whose work decorates Wise Sons locations in San Francisco. In Tokyo, he’s pictured Wise Sons’ home city in a mural with Mount Tam swapped for Mount Fuji.
Other aspects of the original Wise Sons, like its matzo ball soup, were harder to import. Bloom sent over Wise Sons’ recipes, which the Japanese team attempted to recreate. Most items were successful, but the first time they tried to make matzo balls without access to matzo meal, it didn’t go so well. “They just ground up saltine crackers, it was hilarious,” Bloom recalls.
Now the staff has it more or less down, making their own matzo solely for the purpose of grinding it into meal. They’re also doing their own pickles and mustard, and the kitchen is even sharing some of its innovations, designed for the palates of Japanese customers, with Bay Area Wise Sons consumers. Limited edition babka, made with matcha instead of the more traditional chocolate, debuted at Wise Sons SF over the weekend to celebrate the Tokyo opening today.