Isn't there an entrance a few doors down on Madison? My very
first job out of school (in 1979) was in the white skyscraper on the
next corner. At that time there was a great Japanese restaurant called
Kurumazushi located upstairs from Madison avenue, and the entrance,
which wasn't very clearly designated, was on Madison just a few yards
south of 49th street.
It so happens I passed there only yesterday (did a small piece
on Gilt, the new Liebrandt restaurant in the Villard Mansion up the
block on 50th), but apart from then, I'm rarely in that neighborhood,
so I just couldn't say.
They all disappeared. Great place for dumplings & noodles.
Pity. I think there's PAX or something where they used to
be on Madison. There was one on E.59th Street, too and
maybe on the upper west side.
An article from The New York Times in 1981:
JAPANESE NOODLES AS FAST FOOD
The palate dulled by greasy burgers may savor more exotic
fast food these days. At least that is the hope of the
Larmen Dosanko, a chain of New York fast-food restaurants
serving a northern Japanese cuisine based on the buckwheat
The chain, operated by Dosanko Foods Inc., was exported from
Japan, where it ranks as the largest restaurant group among
the country's more than 5,000 noodle establishments. Started
20 years ago in imitation of America's fast-food franchising
successes - particularly McDonald's -Dosanko now operates
1,150 noodle restaurants in Japan, 1,100 of which are
franchised, and seven in the United States, all in New York
Dosanko Foods is the American joint venture of Hokkoku
Shoji, Japan's second-largest noodle manufacturer, the
Mitsubishi International Corporation, Japan's largest
trading company with $70 billion in revenues in 1980, and
Nisshin Flour Milling of Tokyo.
Expansion Has Been Hampered
But expansion in the United States -Dosanko opened its first
restaurant here in 1974 - has been hampered by differences
between Eastern and Western eating habits, language
problems, franchising tactics, competition from other
fast-food restaurants and from the growing number of
Japanese restaurants here.
Dosanko offers heaping mounds of oniony, soy-flavored
noodles either boiled in soup or sauteed with beef, chicken
or vegetables for about $4. Neither as gimmicky as
knives-at-your-table Benihana nor as low-calorie as
raw-fish-on-rice sushi, Dosanko meals are plain but
generous, and are served in 10 minutes.
Patrick McDermott, assistant business manager of Dosanko
Foods and the only American in the organization, notes:
''Our major problem so far -and it's not being resolved - is
that we're not Americanizing. I don't think this is
intentional at all, since some of the cashiers can't even
communicate in English. Even within the restaurants, the
work force is all Oriental.''
Language Is a Major Problem
The language problem is a weighty one here because 50
percent of Dosanko's customers are American. Repetition and
misunderstanding may slow takeout and delivery service.
''Answers may seem rude because of lack of English-speaking
ability,'' explained Mr. McDermott, who is campaigning for
more American workers or better-trained Japanese.
Dosanko's expansion is stymied not only by cultural factors
but also by economic ones. The past two years have been
''soft years for the fast-food industry,'' according to
William T. Trainer, a restaurant industry analyst at Merrill
Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith.
Dosanko said it prospered more during 1980 than in any of
its previous seven years in the United States, although the
company would not disclose sales or profits. But it faces
increasing competition from a growing number of Japanese
restaurants opening in New York. A decade ago there were a
dozen or so, reports the Japanese Restaurant Association,
but now there are more than 200.
''We would like to expand rapidly,'' said Mac M. Hidaka,
vice president of Dosanko Foods, ''but we face problems. For
one thing, food prices here are a bit higher than in
Restaurants Are Smaller in Japan
''There are more small, family franchisers in Japan, and
they are more independent than franchisers here,'' Mr.
Hidaka added. ''And each Dosanko in Japan only seats about
By contrast, Dosankos here average 400 customers during
lunch and, between counter and table service, may seat up to
140 people, according to Guegun Edmond, general manager of
the franchise at 52d Street and Fifth Avenue, which opened
in October 1979. ''I'm growing more than I expected,'' Mr.
Edmond commented, ''much better this year than last.''
But comments from Dosanko management appear less optimistic;
The chain is not growing as rapidly as it would like. One
roadblock has been the lack of familiarity of many Americans
with Japanese food.
On almost any visit to a Dosanko outlet, Americans can be
seen struggling to eat the heaping bowls of noodles. While
Japanese lift their bowls to chin level and quickly slurp in
the noodles, Americans typically curl noodles onto
chopsticks, leaving the plate on the table. This, because of
the greater distance, takes twice as long - and many
customers do not seem to want to make the effort.
The chain's disappointment over its growth may also be
caused by overly high expectations on the part of Dosanko's
extraordinarily successful backers. Dosanko Foods Inc.
obtained an area franchise in the United States, Canada and
Mexico from Hokkoku Shoji, 50 percent shareholder of the
business. Mitsubishi holds 40 percent equity in Dosanko
Foods Inc. through a subsidiary, Transworld Food Services,
wholly owned by Mitsubishi's food division. The remaining 10
percent is owned by Nisshin Flour Milling.
'Not Yet Profitable for Us'
''Dosanko contributes to Mitsubishi's image as a marketer of
Japanese culture in this country,'' said Masumi Niida,
general manager of Mitsubishi's food division. ''Dosanko is
not yet profitable for us, but it has good possibilities of
''For Dosanko to expand as quickly as, let's say, Burger
King, it must go to the big boys and be able to open 10 to
20 stores in one hit,'' Mr. Niida observed.
Further expansion may not be the immediate solution to its
growing pains, however. First, the Dosanko management must
build the restaurant's image as a dinner and weekend spot,
according to Mr. Hidaka. Weekday lunch comprises ''85
percent of Dosanko's business,'' Mr. McDermott said. And the
branches remain open, though quiet, until 10 P.M. and on
weekends, another slow period. ''If the public went to
Dosanko's on the weekend for lunch,'' Mr. Niida said, ''the
chain would expand much faster.''
So far, Dosanko's appeal has mainly been its price.
''Americans don't think of noodles as fast food,'' said
Joseph Duome, a vice president at Doremus & Company.