A college dropout has risen to become the Japan’s latest billionaire after successfully building a global noodle empire.
Money in udon: Takaya Awata, the 61-year-old founder and CEO of Toridoll Holdings, currently owns a 48% stake in the company valued at $1.1 billion.
Toridoll, known for its “udon noodle” Marugame Seimen restaurant chain, has seen its shares surge by nearly 50% this year as the pandemic receded and dining out regained its allure. As of last Friday, the company’s shares were trading at 3,930 Japanese yen (approximately $27).
Awata’s rise: Awata delved into the restaurant business immediately after dropping out of Kobe City University of Foreign Studies in 1985. At just 23, he launched his first grilled chicken eatery, though success initially eluded him.
An epiphany struck during a visit to his father’s hometown in Kagawa prefecture, famed for its bustling udon noodle shops. The sight of customers queuing for the chewy, wheat-flour delight stirred something within Awata. In his words, it was an “emotional experience of food” that led him to pursue his own noodle venture.
When he eventually established Toridoll in 1990, Awata ensured that it focused on freshly cooked, aromatic servings instead of using mass-produced noodles. Toridoll’s affordable self-service restaurants dubbed the Marugame Seimen serve customers in an interactive manner, allowing them to witness the preparation process.
Beyond Japan’s borders: Under Awata’s leadership, Toridoll expanded internationally, establishing its first Marugame Udon restaurant in Hawaii in 2011. The expansion continued across China, Indonesia and beyond.
In 2021, the opening of the first Marugame Udon restaurant in London highlighted Awata’s philosophy of catering to local tastes. During the pandemic, his food truck provided free udon noodles to underprivileged children and healthcare workers in hospitals. Awata’s mission, as he put it, lies in “discovering hidden things and offering them as new value to generate joy in our customers.”
Reaching for the world: Toridoll has since expanded into a global noodle powerhouse, boasting close to 1,900 eateries across the globe. The culinary empire encompasses not only udon noodle joints, but also an array of offerings such as spicy Chinese rice noodles, ramen and tempura.
With an emphasis on authenticity and sensory experiences, Awata’s vision of freshly cooked, open-kitchen fare has resonated with diners around the world. The company is now eyeing further expansion, allocating over $650 million for mergers and acquisitions across Europe, Asia and Greater China. Within the next five years, the noodle empire is looking into bumping its eateries to over 5,500 and raising its revenue to $2 billion.