Kenneth Shoji, the creator of percent Arabica, was instructed by his Japanese father: “Never get into a company that you would like.”
He did, though. In 2013, he launched the first percent Arabica café, which currently has 90 sites across the world. The first store in the United States opened on June 11 in Dumbo, Brooklyn.
“The world has evolved, and the concept of labour as simply hard work and hardships is no longer relevant,” Shoji adds. His new business, on the other hand, sprang from the changed environment. He had to come up with a credible future strategy as the digital world progressively obliterates the industry as the third generation of a printing material producer.
He went to Hong Kong after his residence in Fukushima Prefecture was destroyed by the Tohoku Earthquake in 2011. Then Shoji, a coffee connoisseur, recognised two things: there were no excellent coffee shops in Hong Kong, and coffee was the world’s second most traded commodity after crude oil. He recognised an opportunity.
He travelled to Hawaii and bought a coffee farm as soon as he decided to establish a coffee business. “I used to believe that if you are serious about coffee, you must own a farm.” He went on to become the Japanese distributor of Slayer espresso machines, the exporter of Tornado King coffee roasters produced in Japan, and the Asian distributor of the Chemex coffeemaker.
In 2013, Shoji established his first café in Hong Kong. The plan was to create a modest café chain with up to ten sites around the country. However, once he launched his flagship café in Kyoto in 2014, his plans changed drastically. He received a deluge of franchise applications from all around the globe.
“At the time, I was annoyed that most coffee shops in Japan were knockoffs of Melbourne or Portland establishments. “The positive response to the Kyoto shop convinced me that I could create a globally recognised Japanese coffee brand,” he adds.
“Japanese have strong sensibilities in generating the best taste and tastes in simplicity, much as Brazilians excel at playing soccer. Our concept of coffee is based on traditional Japanese sushi, which reflects the chef’s never-ending quest for perfection.” The Japaneseness he describes is reflected in the basic décor and the modest menu of 100% Arabica. For example, the matcha latte on the menu is crafted from Shoji’s hand-picked organic matcha green tea powder. “Something is wrong with you if it doesn’t taste good,” he jokes.
Except for three shops in Kyoto, all 90 percent Arabica outlets are franchise operations. The great majority of cafés are currently located in Asia and the Middle East.