Marugame Udon opens first Canadian store in Vancouver to massive early sales

The immensely popular Japanese chain Marugame Udon is having no trouble finding its footing in Canada

There aren’t many better ways to hold a grand opening for a restaurant than to offer free food. Victor Hisao Misawa knows this, and he smiles as he looks at the line for Marugame Udon’s first Canadian location snake along Vancouver’s Dunsmuir Street. He’s been smiling a lot lately.

The president and general manager of Marugame Udon International is responsible for the international growth of the chain, which has over 1,000 stores serving udon bowls and fried tempura across the world. “It’s similar to that, it really is,” says Misawa when asked if Marugame is more or less the McDonald’s of Japan, where it has around 850 locations alone.

But even though the price is somewhat similar—Marugame’s cheapest bowl of udon noodles will run you about $6.50, there’s not much of a comparison when it comes to the actual food. Everything is made fresh and is prepared in front of customers via an open kitchen.

And while the line outside is obviously a direct result of the free food on offer, Misawa is happy to report that the location, which had been open for three weeks before the grand opening, is top-five worldwide in terms of sales.

“Honestly, when I first saw it, thought, Is it going to be okay?” says Misawa about the eatery’s location right next to the Stadium-Chinatown Skytrain station. “The station is right there, of course, and the next road down has a lot of people. But we’ve been so pleasantly surprised. There’s a lot of foot traffic, more than we thought. It’s put a lot of challenge on the team.”

The fate of the first Canadian location will determine a lot of what Marugame is going to do next. After conquering markets like Hawaii—which is home to the most popular Marugame store in the world—the chain is focused squarely on the west coast, having already opened a few in California. “Seattle is coming soon—from a supply chain perspective, we use authentic noodles from Japan,” says Misawa. “It’s easier to ship from there.”

And that’s why it made sense to open the first Canadian shop in Vancouver, too: “We want to build up a large amount of stores in Canada. Vancouver was the best place to start.”