This is not a typo. thirty. Years.
Founded in 1926, Asahiya has sold meat products from Hyogo Prefecture—including Kobe beef—for decades before adding beef croquettes to the shelf in the years following World War II.
But until the early 2000s, French fries and beef patties became an internet sensation, resulting in the ridiculously long wait that buyers are now facing.
unprofitable business idea
The highly sought-after ‘Extreme Croquette’ is one of four types of Kobe beef croquettes available in Asahah. Can’t wait three decades? The in-store Premier Kobe Beef Croquettes currently has a more palatable four-year waiting list.
“We started selling our products through online shopping in 1999,” explains Shigeru Nitta, Asahiya’s third generation owner. “At the time, we presented Extreme Croquettes as a trial.”
Nita grew up in Hyogo, and had been visiting local farms and beef auctions with his father since he was young.
He took over the store from his father in 1994 when he was 30 years old.
After trying e-commerce for a few years, I realize that customers are reluctant to pay a huge amount for premium beef online.
Shigeru Nitta is the third generation owner of Asahiya.
That was when he made a bold decision.
“We sold Xtreme croquettes for 270 yen ($1.8) a piece…the beef alone costs about 400 yen ($2.7) apiece,” Nita says.
“We have made affordable and delicious croquettes that illustrate our store concept as a strategy to get customers to enjoy croquettes and then hopefully buy Kobe beef after the first try.”
To reduce the financial loss initially, Asahiya produced only 200 croquettes in their kitchen next to their shop each week.
“We sell beef that is raised by people we know. Our shop only sells meat that has been produced in Hyogo Prefecture, whether it’s Kobe beef, Cuban pork or Tajima chicken. This has been the style of the shop since before I became the owner,” says Nita .
In fact, Nita’s grandfather used to ride to Sanda – another popular wagyu breeding area in Hyogo – by bicycle with a wheelbarrow to pick up the produce himself.
“From about that point forward, our store had connections with local beef producers, so we didn’t have to source it from outside the county,” adds Nita.
Production boosted but popularity increased
The cheap price of Extreme Croquettes flies in the face of the quality of the ingredients. Made fresh daily with no preservatives. Ingredients include three-year-old Kobe beef rated A5 and potatoes from a local farm.
Neta says he encouraged the farm to use cow dung to grow potatoes. The potato stalks will then be fed to the cows, creating a cycle.
In the end, his unique concept caught the attention of local residents and the media. When a report on Asahiya Crockett came out in the early 2000s, its popularity skyrocketed.
“We stopped selling them in 2016 because the waiting time is over 14 years old. We were thinking about stopping orders, but we got many calls asking to keep showing them,” says Nita.
Severe croquettes are made from three-year-old A5 graded Kobe beef.
Asahiya resumed accepting orders for these croquettes in 2017 but raised the price.
“At that time, we raised the price to 500 yen (3.4 USD) – 540 yen (3.7 USD) with excise tax. But since the start of exporting Kobe beef, beef prices have doubled, so the fact that croquette production causes In the event of a deficit says Neta.
Production has also been boosted from 200 croquettes per week to 200 croquettes per day.
“In fact, Extreme Croquettes have become more popular than other products,” Nita laughs, laughing at his money-losing business idea.
“We hear we should hire more people and make croquettes faster, but I think no shopkeeper hires staff and produces more to increase the deficit… I feel sorry for waiting for them. I want to make croquettes quickly and send them ASAP, but if I do, I will The store goes bankrupt.”
Fortunately, Nitta says that about half of the people who try croquettes end up ordering Kobe beef, so it’s a sound marketing strategy.
Nitta’s mission: Let more people enjoy Kobe beef
Each box of Extreme Croquettes, which includes five pieces, sells for 2,700 JPY ($18.40 USD).
The store sends out a regular newsletter to waiting customers to update them on the latest shipping estimates.
A week before the delivery date, the store will confirm the delivery with sick customers again.
“Of course, some people have changed their email addresses. For those people, we call them directly and let them know the delivery date. They can change their address themselves through our website or when we call them, they can tell us,” says Nita.
Customers receiving croquettes these days placed their orders about 10 years ago.
Having a 30-year list of unprofitable demands to fulfill can be stressful, especially as the price of beef and labor in Kobe continues to soar.
But something more important encouraged Nitta to keep going.
The waiting time for these extreme croquettes is around 30 years at the moment.
“When I started selling croquettes online, I had many orders from isolated, remote islands. Most of them had heard about Kobe beef on TV but never got it because they had to go to the cities if they wanted to try it. I realized there were a lot of people who They have never eaten kobe meat.
“That’s why I kept serving croquettes as an experiment and getting more orders of Kobe beef if they liked it. That’s why I started on it in the first place, so I didn’t really care if it was a deficit,” Nita says.
One of the most memorable moments was when they received a request from a cancer patient who was about to undergo surgery while waiting for Xtreme Crocketts.
“I heard that croquet was the patient’s motivation for surgery,” says Nita. “It surprised me so much.”
The patient survived and has made several orders since then.
Nita received a phone call from the patient who told him “I hope to live long without recurring cancer” after taking a sample of croquettes.
“I still remember it,” Nita says. “I was touched by the comment.”
By allowing more people to enjoy Kobe beef, he hopes the fame of these croquettes will help boost the local industry.
“I’m grateful. When I became famous, I believe I can help the whole industry, not just my shop, by getting people interested in Kobe beef who didn’t care about beef. I want to have as many people as possible to eat Kobe beef – not just from my shop, Nita says.
How to taste beef croquettes now
Asahiya now has two locations: their original store in Takasago and a store in Kobe. Frozen beef croquettes are shipped locally only.
Although Asahiya primarily works as a butcher, Nitta says travelers can visit their Kobe shop, where they sell two types of ready-to-eat snacks, called “Tor Road” and “Kitanozaka” croquettes, named after the nearby streets.
Kitanozaka uses lean beef and costs 360 JPY ($2.5) each. The ‘Tor Road’ uses short loin and an envelope seal, and costs JPY 460 (US$3.1).
“We aged the meat for 40 days and the potatoes for a month so they are sweeter,” says Nita.
As for the future, the 58-year-old owner says he is considering expansion.
“I like to make a little space where people can eat a little, maybe. Our Kobe store is a tourist spot,” he says. “But if it becomes a restaurant, the restaurants next to us might get upset because we provide meat to them as well.”
Highest image credit: Asahiya.
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