Watami Founder’s interview on VnExpress

For Vietnamese, please click here 

Desire to collect “Thank you” in Vietnam of a 560 million USD company’s owner from Japan

The founder of Watami Group – Mr. Miki Watanabe believes that Vietnam is on the 1st ladder of prosperous economic development period as Japan in 1970.


“I have chances to visit many countries in South East Asia, and I really highly appreciate the development of Vietnam. The world is facing a crisis because of the trade war. USA, China, Japan and Europe has been un-budgeting. However, with reasonable policies of government, Vietnam economy is not only unaffected, but also well developing”, shared Mr. Watanabe with Vnexpress in his recent business trip in Vietnam.


In this trip, not only discussing about the plan to build a Food Processing Factory and seeking for labor sources from Vietnam, Mr. Watanabe spent also his time to visit KYO WATAMI restaurant in HCMC, the 1st restaurant in his expansion plan in Vietnam.


“I do satisfy about this restaurant and its beautiful location. It’s beside the General Consulate of Japan in HCMC. In Japan, our Watami restaurants target to family. However, in order to be more suitable with the concept and our location here, we serve more food for business meeting needs of our guests. Surely, in your visit next month, you will see the changes”, he said.


Being a new brand in Japanese cuisine market in Vietnam, however, KYO WATAMI potentially becomes a big name with supports from Watami (Japan) and SonKim (Vietnam). With 560 million USD capitalization, Watami’s main business segment is food service including 17 brands, over 500 restaurants in 9 cities in Asia, especially in Japan. Besides, Watami also invests in farm, food processing, central kitchen, home food delivery, environment… Sonkim is a group doing business in 2 main segments: Land (targeting to the luxury real estate) and Retail (with chains of fashion, convenient store, home shopping, and F&B).



“Not only 1 restaurant in HCMC, our plan is to open more in nationwide”, said Watanabe. Before, when officially signing ceremony of joint-venture, SonKim Group affirmed to open 30 restaurants in the first period.


Watami Founder believes that, Vietnam economy’s development and the living standard’s improvement is his opportunity. Customers will seek for high quality Japanese restaurant which is similar to authentic restaurant in Japan. “As same as in Japan, our first step is to start with restaurant industry. Second is to build food processing factory, and the third is agriculture” – shared Watanabe about his vision in Vietnam.


Not only having the same vision, this 60 year-old businessman also favorites with objective to collect as much as possible ‘thank you’ from Vietnam. “Each business enterprise has different vision and style. There are enterprises who aim for revenue, others aim for profits. For us, we aim to collect “thank you” of our employees, as well as of our customers. In fact, the more ‘thank you’ you collect, the higher satisfaction you get, the better company’s growth is”, he explained about the slogan “to be the group to collect the most ‘thank you’ on the planet” which he always brings in his business career.


The business of Miki Watanabe is basically different. The idea to start-up came when he was 10 years old, and his father’s company interrupted. “That year, I decided to build my own company”, he remembered.


After graduated from Meiji University in 1982, he worked for an accounting company for a half year to learn financial affairs and accounting skill which will be needed for the company management. After that, he spent one more year to work as a courier before founding Watami in May 1984.


“At the first begin with difficulties, I always found ways to increase revenue. Then I recognized that there is one thing which is more important than growth, company’s culture. This means to collect more ‘thank you’, and I followed that vision”.


Desire to collect more ‘thank you’, beside business, Watanabe founded “School Aid Japan” which supports the education for the children in Cambodia, Nepal and Bangladesh. In Cambodia, this foundation built 288 schools (Mar 2019), provided uniforms and stationeries for over 11,000 pupils. He aims to build Watami to become a group with CSV model (Creating Shared Value) by doing business and solving social issues simultaneously.



“Why does human exist on this earth? People live, not because of money, but to be more mature. With this reason, we build the development process with further vision for our group”, shared Watami Founder.


Doing business in 29 years, Miki Watanabe joined politics in 6 years. He was formally inducted into the counselor of the reconstruction of Rikuzentakata in Iwate prefecture in 2011, and became a member of Upper House in 2013. In July 2019, he was back to business after his termination of the term at the Upper House. During his time in politics, Watami sometimes met obstacles. At that such period of time, “the union of all employees will be the key which can help company to overcome the difficulties”, said he.


Sharing about the investment of Japanese enterprises in Vietnam, he said that Vietnam has advantageous conditions, from politics, investment environment, to the policies that Japan government is applying for Vietnam. Not only the upcoming restaurant chain, Watami is planning to build the schools to teach Japanese and to recruit Vietnamese employees to Japan for working. Also to move the group’s partners from China to Vietnam, relating the Food Processing Factory.


“We are oversea enterprise. We come to Vietnam to seek for chances to corporate, as well as for doing business. We consider that Vietnam market is really potential. When our economy was prosperous in the past, we had such conditions as same as Vietnam at present. I believe that the Youth will be absolutely successful, if you have determination and specific plans”, evaluated Watanabe.