Quick-serve Japanese dining could be on the menu in the Buffalo area early next year in as many as six locations.
Clear Creek Development, a Town of Tonawanda-based restaurant franchise broker, is eyeing several local sites for the Made In Japan Teriyaki Experience chain. The Canada-born restaurant concept is found in shopping mall food courts, strip plazas and power centers.
Teriyaki Experience features teppanyaki-style preparation -- which means cooking on a steel grill.
Chicken, beef, shrimp, tofu and a variety of vegetables are flash cooked at the counter in front of customers, using water, not oil. The entrees are then served up with Japanese-style yakisoba noodles or steamed rice, and topped with the chain's signature teriyaki sauce.
The restaurants also offer a selection of hand-rolled sushi, dumplings, and noodle bowls.
"It's a little bit exotic and different," said Andy Klie, of Clear Creek. "This will be a completely new dining niche for Western New York."
Clear Creek, a subsidiary of NOCO Energy Corp., last month brokered a deal to open New York's first Teriyaki Experience eatery in Watertown. The restaurant was an "instant hit," according to Klie.
"Our franchisee is seeing tremendous success in a market where customers have had little, if any, experience with Japanese cuisine, so we expect it will be a huge draw in the Buffalo market, and across the state," Klie said.
While he declined to divulge specific target sites, Klie confirmed he's aiming for several of the Buffalo area's top shopping destinations, including the Walden Galleria, Boulevard Mall and Eastern Hills Mall. He also sees the food court at downtown Buffalo's Main Place Mall as a strong contender.
"That food court is jam-packed at lunch time, so it's a real possibility," he said.
Food court-located Teriyaki Experience sites are about 600 square feet in size, while plaza restaurants, with in-store dining space, are as large as 1,800 square feet.
Clear Creek is now seeking one or more franchisees to operate locations in the Buffalo market. It is also signing on franchisees for Rochester, Syracuse and the Southern Tier.
Founded in 1986, Oakville, Ont.-based Teriyaki Experience has grown to include more than 100 units, primarily in Canada. It also has restaurants in Europe, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.
The first U.S. unit debuted in Atlanta in June 2007 and there are currently three sites up and running, including the new Watertown location. Franchise agreements were recently inked for multiple restaurants in California, Arizona and Iowa.
Klie said Buffalo's proximity to the Ontario headquarters make it a perfect expansion prospect.
"Buffalo is just a short drive from Oakville, and because of the proximity to Toronto, there's a good chance some of our future Buffalo area customers will be familiar with our concept and our menu," he said.
Teryiaki Experience is making a major, worldwide expansion push, with the goal of reaching 600 units within the next five to seven years.
Clear Creek also holds franchising rights to Salsarita's Fresh Cantina and Quiznos Sub Sandwich Shops.