In 1935, a Japanese street vendor named Tomekichi Endo began peddling a peculiar offering in Osaka: a grilled wheat flour ball filled with octopus, called takoyaki (which means grilled octopus). Those humble beginnings signalled the rise of takoyaki’s soaring popularity in Japan.
In 1997, takoyaki outlet Gindaco (pronounced kin-da-go) launched in Japan and became so popular that it has now spread its wings to countries like Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Thailand.
This year, the brand finally found its way to Malaysia, courtesy of maverick entrepreneur Bryan Loo (of Chatime fame).
The story goes that Hotland Co. (Gindaco’s parent company) president and CEO Morio Sase met Loo at the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the World Award last July in Monte Carlo, and was so impressed by his two-hour conversation with the passionate entrepreneur that he quickly decided he had found the perfect partner to venture into the Malaysian market.
The union marks the first time that Gindaco has launched in another country as the result of a joint partnership, and has also led to the birth of Loob Ventures Sdn Bhd, the local company which will possibly introduce other Hotland brands in Malaysia.
Gindaco’s first local outlet is in AEON Shah Alam, and will serve as the point of introduction for the brand’s signature takoyakis.
Unlike conventional takoyakis which are traditionally doughy, soggy on the outside and stuffed with so little octopus, you’re often left wondering if you’re eating leftovers, Gindaco’s version is crisp on the outside, putty soft on the inside and contains 8g of premium octopus from Mauritania, renowned for its pristine waters and high-quality seafood.
Incidentally, Hotland’s octopus consumption is so high that it accounts for 30% of global consumption!
Each ball weighs a total of 30g and also includes ingredients like wheat flour, dried shrimp powder and deepfried tempura batter. The company is so committed to procuring high-quality octopus, that 50% of the raw cost goes towards the cephalopod!
The four takoyaki flavours that are available include Original, Negidako, Cheese Mentaiko and Teritama.
The Original is Gindaco’s flagship and is drizzled with Gindaco’s signature sauce and topped with dried seaweed and dancing bonito flakes (so named because they sway at the slightest inclination).
The large chunks of octopus are immediately palpable, and you’ll find yourself chomping on lots of it in a single ball. The rich, buttery Cheese Mentaiko is another hot favourite, topped with mozzarella cheese, dried parsley and Parmesan cheese sprinkles.
The Negidako comes with tempura dipping sauce and is topped with white radish and green onions. The flavours in this ball are rich and robust.
The Teritama meanwhile is drizzled with premium teriyaki sauce and Japanese mayonnaise, topped with freshly made egg salad, dried green seaweed and bonito flakes and sprinkled with Japan’s famous seven spices, offering a truly sumptuous symphony of flavours.
The balls are meant to be eaten piping hot and are made to order, so you can rest assured you won’t get stale takoyakis that have been lingering on the counter for ages.
According to Loo, the fact that Gindaco’s takoyaki balls are stuffed full of octopus, is one of the reasons he was drawn to the brand in the first place.
“That is the main reason I was a big fan of Gindaco. Because in my mind, the takoyakis I had were nothing like this – they were always chewy and inside is nothing – flour only! But when I had the Gindaco takoyaki, I knew it was going to be top-notch. That’s why it’s called premium takoyaki,” he said.
The premium aspect is reflected in the price, which is slightly higher than the supermarket average, starting at RM9.90 for four balls. “The conventional takoyakis are priced at around RM6. There’s about a RM3 difference, but you get a bigger size and a bigger chunk of octopus,” said Loo.
Hotland’s vice president Kazuhiro Ishihara, who flew in from Japan for the launch of the Malaysian Gindaco, also said that there is a possibility that the takoyaki balls will incorporate local flavours once they’ve received more feedback from customers.
According to Loo, a satay topping is currently on the list of potential flavour additions.
Loo also said that his company is constantly on the lookout for fast-moving products that can be automated and have scalability and in Gindaco, he found exactly what he was looking for.
“With takoyakis throughout the world, there was no automated machine. Gindaco made the machine about half a year ago, and now it’s fully automated and that’s the main reason why they can expand globally,” he said.
The hot plates Gindaco introduced can produce 32 takoyaki balls in 12 minutes – from start to finish with minimal manual involvement. Before this, the highly manual process took double the time to produce the same amount of balls.
With the introduction of the automated system, Gindaco is looking at widening its reach even further. According to Loo, there are plans to introduce 40 Gindaco outlets in Malaysia within the next three years as well as possibly launching in neighbouring countries.
What bolsters Gindaco’s market positioning further is the fact that it has been positioned as a fast gourmet outlet. This is in line with global shifts in food trends which indicate that savvy consumers no longer want traditional fast food but are instead looking for something a little more upmarket.
“The global consumer trend has moved from fast food to fast gourmet and this trend will gradually be realised in all the South-East Asian markets. We believe that if we spread our wings to Indonesia and Vietnam, we will also see success,” said Loo.