EVEN with the absence of the Japanese tourists, its major market, homegrown authentic Japanese restaurant chain Nonki continues to reap better sales performance even at the height of the pandemic and is now considering adding more branches in the Visayas-Mindanao area.

In an interview, Ligaya Arong-Machida said her restaurant business was very fortunate that even at the height of pandemic lockdowns it still managed to keep the jobs of her 250 employees while catering to the rising demand for healthier food options.

“We were all surprised by the high interest of Cebuano diners in Japanese cuisine. Nonki became more in demand at the height of the pandemic because people have shifted to a healthier lifestyle. Stranded foreign tourists also became our regular customers, making up for the absence of our Japanese regulars,” said Machida, adding that they also saw the same trend in other Nonki branches across Visayas and Mindanao.

Recently, Machida opened the 10th branch of Nonki Japanese restaurant in the basement of JCenter Mall in Mandaue City.

Another branch is set to open in December this year inside the premier Nustar Resort and Casino at the South Road Properties in Cebu City.

“We have already signed a contract with the Nustar team for this expansion,” said Machida.

Nonki’s other branches are located in A.S. Fortuna St., Mandaue City, Mactan Tropical Center in Lapu-Lapu City, JPark Hotel branch, Nonki Teppanyaki inside JCenter Mall, SM City Cebu, One Pavilion Mall in Banawa, Davao City, Iloilo City and Bohol.

Machida hinted more branches are opening soon following invitations to open branches in other parts of the country including Metro Manila, but the woman entrepreneur said she’d rather focus on growing the brand’s presence across Visayas and Mindanao.

“We have invitations to open in Tacloban, Dumaguete, Cagayan de Oro and Boracay,” she said.

Surviving pandemic’s effect

Although the food business faced several challenges due to the lockdowns, Machida said her employees worked double-time to continue the restaurant’s operation even in the digital space.

Since indoor dining was limited some kitchen staff and servers volunteered to deliver orders booked online.

“Everyone really went the extra mile in helping the restaurant cope with the crisis. That is also one of the reasons we are still here in the business,” said Machida.

With the easing of restrictions and the economy fully opening up, Machida is optimistic sales would return to the pre-pandemic level.

“We have developed new markets over the course of two years. We’ve made ourselves present in the digital space, which means our customers can now easily reach us. We’ve set up outdoor dining and embarked on other innovations,” she said.

Machida added that she is also anticipating the return of foreign tourists to Cebu, particularly the Japanese.