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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Kura Sushi Levels Up With Pac-Man

Latest Local Pact for Bandai Namco

Kura Sushi USA Inc. has partnered with one of the gaming industry’s oldest and best-known mascots, Pac-Man, to further the guest experience across its growing base of revolving sushi restaurants.

The nearly $640 million-valued restaurant chain (Nasdaq: KRUS) and the 42-year-old arcade character, a property of Bandai Namco Entertainment Inc., both have origins in Japan with parent companies based in Osaka and Tokyo, respectively. Both firms are domestically based in Irvine.

The deal is the latest local link-up for Bandai Namco Entertainment America.

Since the U.S. operations of Bandai—whose parent company is valued around $16 billion—moved its headquarters from Northern California to Irvine’s Source H2O office complex in 2021, it has looked to build its presence in Orange County through a variety of local partnerships, including a sponsorship agreement with the Los Angeles Angels in April, at the start of the team’s latest season.

A May event at the Irvine Spectrum shopping center also showed off Bandai’s catalog of video game-themed products to a big crowd.

The Bandai collaboration also marks the latest notable marketing effort from Kura Sushi, the second-most-valuable publicly traded restaurant chain based in Orange County, trailing only Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (NYSE: CMG). The company went public in 2019 at $14 a share; its stock now trades around $70.

Kura Sushi reported $99 million of sales for the nine months ended May 31, almost tripling from $37 million during the same period a year ago.

Eyes on Prize

Kura Sushi this month rolled out the Pac-Man collaboration at its first U.S. location, at the Diamond Jamboree center in Irvine. The theme will last until the end of October.

The restaurant chain, now with 38 locations in the U.S. including four stores in OC, has made the consumer dining experience tech and entertainment-driven; from the revolving sushi bar itself, to the automatic dish dispensary, ordering tablets, and its newest addition, server robots.

“Constant technological innovation and iteration is really the DNA of our company,” Chief Executive Hajime “Jimmy” Uba told the Business Journal.

One of its better-known tableside attractions is the “Bikkura Pon” prize system—when a guest finishes 15 plates of food, Kura Sushi prize machines dispense a small prize to the table. On Sept. 1, the prizes became Pac-Man themed.

“A part of our philosophy, or mission, as a company is to be an ambassador for Japanese culture,” Uba said (see story, page 60). “The Bikkura Pon toy dispensers have really been a great avenue for that.”

Local Link-Up

When it came to Pac-Man, Uba said he had already noticed that the restaurants’ conveyor belts were shaped like an E, which reminded him of the maze from the classic video game.

“We knew right off the bat there would be some interesting things we could do,” he said of the collaboration with Bandai.

The executives at Kura Sushi also said the team had been following Bandai’s push for local partnerships.

“Food and Pac-Man go hand in hand, so it’s a natural partnership for us to work with Kura Sushi,” Senior Director of Brand Development for Bandai, Susan Tran, told the Business Journal.

Tran was previously at Sanrio before joining Bandai in April.

“For Pac-Man, we definitely want to reach new audiences, and the brand has been around for 42 years because it’s a generational experience,” Tran said.

More could be in store for Bandai as it looks to build its brand in Orange County.

“We’re always looking for different opportunities to work with local businesses in the area too,” Tran said.

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