Former AKB48 idol channels her faith that ramen fans will be back at her restaurant in the future into making sure workers get paid in the present.

While restaurants in Japan haven’t been ordered to close, the continuing coronavirus outbreak is putting a huge hurt on the industry. Following the official declaration of a state of emergency in Tokyo and several of Japan’s most populous prefectures, many are choosing to eat their meals at home, and the surge in telecommuting means office lunch crowds and after-work coworker dinner parties have been drying up.

In response, many restaurants have pivoted to offering takeout items, but that limits your potential customer base largely to just the people who live in the immediate vicinity of the restaurant, and transitioning to takeout is especially hard to do when you specialize in ramen, something that’s tough to transport and meant to be eaten when it’s still piping hot. So to deal with those issues, ramen restaurant owner Mayuaka Umezawa has come up with a clever idea.

▼ You might remember Umezawa from our visit to Yagumo, the ramen restaurant she founded in Tokyo’s Katsushika Ward. Or maybe you remember her from her time with idol singer mega-group AKB48.

While Yagumo has begun offering takeout and delivery service, those come with increased costs, not just to cover delivery but also in the form of single-use containers Yagumo needs to provide, as opposed to the reusable bowls eat-in diners would use. Moreover, Umezawa estimates that only customers living within about two kilometers (1.2 miles) of the restaurant are willing to go to the trouble of picking up takeout orders.

So to help make ends meet, Yagumo has begun offering online ramen pre-sales. Through a website Umezawa has set up, you can pre-purchase 2,000, 5,000, or 10,000 yen (US$18.70, US$46.70, or US$93.50) worth of ramen, to be redeemed at a later date. And any later date is fine, as there’s no expiration date for the pre-paid meal tickets, and unlike a gift certificate, you don’t have to use the whole sum in one sitting, since you can redeem them in increments of 100 yen. You even get a discount, as the 2,000-yen package is priced at 1,800 yen, the 5,000-yen on at 4,400 yen, and the 10,000-yen at 8,600 yen.

▼ Yagumo’s ramen is definitely worth waiting for.

When we spoke to Umezawa about the plan, she told us “I’d like this to be a win-win situation for both our restaurants and our customers,” referring to Yagumo’s original location plus its second branch in Kanagawa Prefecture, Tokyo’s neighbor to the south which is also under an official state of emergency.

▼ The ramen pre-purchase page, which also has a 500-yen donation option, if you’re not feeling hungry but are feeling generous.

It’s not just the restaurant’s finances Umezawa is concerned about either. “Even if I can’t pay myself anything, I want to make absolutely sure that the rest of the staff gets paid,” she says, and if you’d like to help her with that goal, the pre-purchase page can be found here.

Restaurant information
Yagumo / 八雲
Address: Tokyo-to, Katsushika-ku, Horikiri 3-4-13
Open 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Closed Mondays

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