The company behind beef bowl chain Sukiya and conveyor belt sushi restaurant chain Hama Sushi now have their own konbini.

You’ve probably heard of Japan’s most famous convenience store chains, Family Mart, Lawson, and 7-Eleven, and you may even know about a few not-so-famous ones, like Mini StopDaily Yamazaki and New Days.

But have you heard of a convenience store called Sakura Mikura? If you haven’t, don’t worry — you’re not alone, as the chain quietly opened four branches in Gunma Prefecture in 2021 so not a lot of people know about it yet.

However, it probably won’t be long until more people start talking about the chain, as it’s run by Zensho Holdings, which operates some pretty famous restaurants — namely the Sukiya beef bowl chain, the Hama Sushi conveyor belt sushi chain, and the Cocos family restaurant chain.

▼ Sakura Mikura incorporates sakura cherry blossom petals in its logo.

The meaning of the store name is a bit of a mystery, as “mikura” isn’t a word that’s familiar to our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun, who made the trip out to Gunma to check the store out recently. According to the official site, though, the “sakura” in the title aims to “bring smiles to the region, as the cherry blossoms do“, and that’s certainly what happened to P.K. when he stepped through the doors and saw a large section inside called “Mikura Shokudo”.

▼ “Shokudo” translates to “dining hall” or “cafeteria”.

Given that the company behind Sakura Mikura runs some of the country’s most popular eateries, P.K. was excited to try the offerings from this shokudo, so he went all out by purchasing the following items:

  • Mikura Fried Chicken Bento (470 yen [US$4.07])
  • Rich and Delicious! Offal Miso Ramen (550 yen)
  • Curry Bread (148 yen)
  • Churro (105 yen)
  • Maritozzo – Strawberry and Nut Flavour (290 yen)

In Japan, rival convenience store chains manage to survive within close proximity to each other by offering signature items that make them slightly different from their competitors. The Mikura Shokudo is definitely a unique drawcard for this chain, and by the look of the food on offer, they might even have what it takes to rival 7-Eleven, who’s particularly famous for its bentos.

What makes Mikura Shokudo so different to other hot food sections is the fact that it’s set up to be more like a fast food counter, with an extensive menu that includes options like bento lunches, curry dishes, bento, pasta, and rice bowls, all made to order.

There’s also an eat-in area, so you can eat inside like you’re at a fast food joint inside a convenience store, and that’s what P.K. did, sitting down to try the chain’s most popular item on the menu — the Mikura Fried Chicken Bento.

The fried chicken had a nice, crispy texture that was different to a ready-made bento that you’d buy off-the-shelf at a convenience store. The rice had also been freshly served out of the rice cooker, which elevated it from ho-hum kombini-level quality to something you’d purchase at an eat-in diner like Sukiya or Coco’s.

Next up, he lifted the lid on the “seasonally recommended” miso ramen, which came with “horumon” (“offal”). This was really delicious, as the broth was punchy and flavourful, and it was packed with a good amount of offal that was surprisingly high quality for a convenience store meal.

With his expectations exceeded, P.K. reached for the churro and curry bread. These too were a level above usual konbini-style offerings, which P.K. figured was due to them being freshly fried after he’d ordered them.

▼ The made-to-order feature really makes a big difference to convenience store food.

It’s hard to find a chain that offers made-to-order food at prices as low as these, so the big convenience stores might want to watch their backs — this could be a game-changer for customers.

There is another convenience chain that offers made-to-order hot food like this, but it’s a chain that only exists on Japan’s northernomst island of Hokkaido.

▼ That chain is Seico Mart, which is popular for its “Hot Chef” range of hot foods.

Seico Mart is known for its local pride, featuring locally sourced goods throughout each store, and that’s the approach also being taken by Sakura Mikura, which stocks products made by local companies.

In fact, P.K. would go so far as to say that Sakura Mikura is more similar to Seico Mart than it is the other big-name chains on the mainland, and given the immense love and pride for Seico Mart in its home region, this new chain in Gunma may very well go on to develop an equally adoring legion of customers.

So look out, convenience store operators in Gunma — the freshly made food on offer at Sakura Mikura may wind up putting in a dent in your earnings. Unless you have a cat on your doormat like this Gunma 7-Eleven, because a touching story like that is a sure-fire way to get customers through your brightly lit automatic doors.

Related: Sakura Mikura
Photos ©SoraNews24

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