Hoping Americans are ready for Japanese-style baked goods, the founders of the Panda Restaurant Group are moving forward with growth of the Uncle Tetsu cheesecake concept in the U.S.
The first mainland location for the Japanese cheesecake brand opened in Arcadia, Calif. this month after making its debut in Hawaii earlier this year.
Uncle Tetsu is a global chain, founded in 1985 by Tetsushi Mizokami, who created a lightly sweet and soufflé-like cake that is similar to American cheesecake but lighter and less rich. The bakery has about 80 locations around the world.
Peggy and Andrew Cherng, founders of Panda Express parent Panda Restaurant Group, decided to bring the concept to the U.S. as master franchisees.
Uncle Tetsu is one of several non-Panda brands the Cherngs are investing in, lending their considerable experience, infrastructure and capital. The couple has invested in the Pieology fast-casual pizza chain, for example, as well as growing the ramen concept Ippudo, which is scheduled to open a second U.S. location in Berkeley, Calif. later this year.
Glenn Inanaga, senior vice president of the Cherng Family Trust and head of Uncle Tetsu’s development, said the plan is to tweak the Uncle Tetsu concept as it grows.
The Arcadia unit, for example, is in a Westfield mall in neighborhood with a large Asian American population. For now, the bakery offers fresh-baked cheesecakes, branded with the Uncle Tetsu logo, for dine in or takeout, as well as a line of Asian-inspired beverages, and cookies, but the menu will likely expand as the brand grows, said Inanaga.
“The project is designed to introduce a Japanese culinary palate to Southern California,” he said. “The sweetness is more restrained. It’s more delicate.”
Inanaga is reluctant to say how many Uncle Tetsu’s are planned at this point. The company will look at a range of locations, from freestanding to possible kiosk units.
Though the brand has a global presence, the Cherngs see the concept as something new to American consumers.
“It’s an opportunity to learn about new concepts and to approach things from an entrepreneurial viewpoint,” he said.