Let me describe a scene for you: a crowd of Japanese are gathered around steel drums in a little shanty of a building open to the summer air. Some are drinking beers in plastic cups, others disposable one-cup sakes. Most are eating from unheated cans of food with plastic cutlery, chasing it with sips of their chosen brew. Around them are shelves of unfinished wood, stacked high with a stupendous assortment of cans, probably enough to last several months. Think this is a scene from a disaster shelter in Tohoku? Perhaps an end-of-the-world movie? Think again. It’s Saturday night at one of Osaka’s most unique “restaurants”, the long-standing and popular Kanso, where there’s no menu except the cans on the shelves. Try to contain your excitement, because this monument to apocalypse-chic may be coming to a city near you.
Restaurant and cafe design company Clean Brothers, owner and operator of Kanso, have begun franchising their operation around Japan under the name Mr. Kanso. They’ve set a goal of opening 15 branches in east and west Japan in this fiscal year, including 6 new branches in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.
The shops’ claim to fame, other than the bizarre concept, is their excellent selection of canned goods from around the world, about 300 varieties in total, from bear curry from Hokkaido to French salad in a can. They are even developing in-house brands. Inside the restaurant, the shelves are absolutely packed with cans in every shape, size and color, which actually lends the place a kind of modern, Warhol-esque atmosphere.
According to one of their customers, the fun is in browsing the cans and trying out new flavors. This style seems to appeal to people of all ages, which was one of the factors behind the decision to expand.
The original store was opened in Osaka in 2002. Using the experience gained in their management of that store, Clean Brothers began selling franchises on the occasion of their tenth anniversary. Currently there are 17 branches, 14 of which are franchises. And it seems that the number of interested potential franchisees is growing. Since there is no kitchen to set up and run, the starting and operating costs are very low for this kind of business. Just 3 million yen (about $38,000 US) will get you up and running, which is about a third of the usual cost to open a restaurant. The fact that skilled staff are not needed is also appealing, according to the company.
Well, they must be on to something, because the franchise side of the business seems to be exploding, but this writer think she’ll save the culinary experience of cold canned food for the next natural disaster. Perhaps I’m too much of a traditionalist, though. Does the concept appeal to any readers out there?