Takaya Awata, founder and CEO of Toridoll Holdings, a company listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and best known for its popular udon noodle restaurants, has joined the ranks of billionaires. Shares in Toridoll, which operates about 1,900 restaurants worldwide, have soared by more than a third over the past year as people, limited during the pandemic, return to eating out. Awata’s 48% stake in Toridoll is now worth $1.1 billion, based on Friday’s closing price of 3,930 yen ($26.8).

Founded by Awata in 1990, Toridoll has grown to become one of Japan’s leading noodle shop operators with chains such as Marugame Seimen. Toridoll also owns restaurants serving spicy Chinese rice noodles, pancakes, ramen, and freshly fried tempura. Since 2010, Awata has focused on expanding Toridoll’s footprint around the world. Apart from Japan, where it has more than 1,000 restaurants, the company is present in the US, the United Kingdom, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Some of that global expansion has been achieved through acquisitions. In 2015, Awata acquired the Asian fast-food chain Wok to Walk, which already had a presence in Europe. In 2018, Toridoll paid $242 million for Tam Jai International, operator of popular Hong Kong noodle chains TamJai and SamGor, and took it public in a $180 million IPO three years later. In June, Toridoll bought Fulham Shore, an operator of pizzerias and Greek food restaurants in the United Kingdom, for about $118 million.

Awata’s appetite for expansion is far from satiated. Tori Doll has already committed more than $650 million to mergers and acquisitions in Europe, Asia, and Greater China, to triple its number of restaurants to more than 5,500 and double revenues to $2 billion in the next five years.

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In the quarter ending in June, Toridoll posted record revenue of $360 million, up 20% from the same period last year. In addition to attracting more diners to its restaurants, the company added a takeout section, which contributed to increased revenue. Despite its rapid growth, net profits fell 20% in the last quarter, to $50 million, largely due to inflation, which affected, among other things, the costs of its ingredients.

Awata, 61, became interested in catering after dropping out of school at the University of Foreign Studies in the city of Kobe. At age 23, he opened his first Japanese-style grilled chicken restaurant in 1985. But, as he once revealed in an interview with Japanese broadcaster NHK, “we were barely getting any business.”

It was a visit to his late father’s hometown in the Japanese prefecture of Kagawa, famous for its udon noodle shops, that gave him a new idea. Seeing long lines outside udon restaurants, which cooked the chewy wheat flour noodles right in front of their customers – a scene Awata described in a blog post as an “emotional food experience” – inspired him to set up his noodle shop.

Instead of factory-produced noodles, Awata believes in offering freshly cooked food that also offers a sensory experience that attracts customers. At Toridoll’s affordable self-service restaurants, noodles are prepared in front of diners in open kitchens and are typically served in a soy sauce-based broth with a choice of toppings.

As his chain expanded, Awata took the company public on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2006, initially listing on the Mothers startup exchange and moving to the First section of the TSE two years later.

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It was on a vacation to Hawaii that Awata first had the idea of ​​expanding abroad. In 2011, Toridoll opened his first restaurant in Hawaii, followed by restaurants in China, Indonesia, and other countries. In 2021, the first Marugame Seimen restaurant opened in London. Instead of a one-flavor-fits-all-palates approach, Awata caters to local preferences. Restaurants offer, for example, tomato-based broth in China, where it first opened in 2012, and chili seasonings in Indonesia, where it entered a year later.

During the pandemic, Awata provided free udon noodles to underprivileged children through a food truck that traveled throughout Japan. Additionally, they supplied food to healthcare workers in hospitals. “The things that ignite a passion for food are often found in unexpected places,” Awata stated on Toridoll’s website. “We discover these hidden gems and offer them as a new value to bring joy to our customers. This is the driving force behind our growth and our mission.” our mission.”