A family-run butcher shop in Japan has a 30-year waitlist for its sought-after beef croquettes.
Even though Asahiya, which was founded in the city of Takasago in Japan’s Hyogo prefecture in 1926, started selling its Kobe beef “Extreme Croquettes” after World War II, the Japanese treat did not become a worldwide hit until the early 2000s.
Shigeru Nitta, a third-generation owner of the store, told CNN that Asahiya began selling its Extreme Croquettes online in 1999 – around five years after he took over in 1994 – while experimenting with e-commerce.
Nitta noted that the shop was selling at a loss after it first started offering the beef croquettes online for 270 yen (approximately $1.94) per piece. He said the beef used in them costs 400 yen (approximately $2.87) per piece.
“We made affordable and tasty croquettes that demonstrate the concept of our shop as a strategy to have customers enjoy the croquettes and then hope that they would buy our Kobe beef after the first try,” Nitta explained.
To cut back on its losses, Nitta said the store initially produced 200 croquettes using locally outsourced ingredients weekly. Some of the products Asahiya uses in its croquettes include three-year-old female A5-ranked Kobe beef and potatoes grown at a local ranch.
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“We sell the beef raised by the people we know,” he said. “Our shop only sells meat that was produced in Hyogo Prefecture, whether it’s Kobe beef, Kobe pork or Tajima chicken. This has been the style of the shop since before I became the owner.”
According to CNN, a widely read report in the early 2000s helped Asahiya’s beef croquettes become so popular in the country that the shop stopped taking orders in 2016 after its waitlist became 14 years long.
Asahiya eventually resumed taking orders in 2017, but Nitta noted the deficit in profit remains as the price of Kobe beef has doubled since then. The store’s production of its Extreme Croquettes, which now cost up to 540 yen (approximately $3.88) per croquette with consumption tax, has also increased from 200 pieces weekly to 200 pieces daily.
“We hear that we should hire more people and make croquettes more quickly, but I think there is no shop owner who hires employees and produce more to make more deficit,” Nitta said. “I feel sorry for having them wait. I do want to make croquettes quickly and send them as soon as possible, but if I do, the shop will go bankrupt.”
Nitta noted that almost half of the customers who have eaten Asahiya’s Extreme Croquettes have eventually ordered the shop’s Kobe beef, which makes its online venture a high-cost but satisfactory marketing strategy.
Despite the hardships the business has endured over the years, Nitta told CNN that Asahiya will continue selling its beef croquettes to the public, especially to anyone who has not tried Kobe beef before.
Nitta also mentioned the time when a cancer patient placed an order for Extreme Croquettes before they went into surgery, noting that the product motivated them to go through with the procedure. That patient reportedly survived the operation and placed more orders.
Earlier this year, a Japanese woman took to Twitter to announce that she finally got her order of Extreme Croquettes after waiting for nine years. She reportedly placed her order in 2013, and despite marrying twice and relocating, Asahiya still found a way to deliver the treat to her. While Asahiya operates as a butcher shop, travelers can order ready-to-eat takeaway items there, such as “Kitanozaka” croquettes, which include lean beef and cost 360 yen (approximately $2.58) per piece, and “Tor Road” croquettes, which use short loin and chuck and cost 460 yen (approximately $3.30) per piece. Asahiya also offers a box of its famous Extreme Croquettes for 2,700 yen (approximately $26.55). Those interested can head over to Asahiya’s website to order online.