This is not a typo. thirty. Years.
Founded in 1926, Asahiya sold meat products from Hyogo Prefecture, including Kobe beef, for decades before adding beef croquettes to the shelves in the post-World War II years.
But it wasn’t until the early 2000s that these deep-fried potato and beef patties became an internet sensation, and as a result, buyers now have to wait ridiculously long.
Unprofitable business idea
The coveted “Extreme Croquettes” are one of four Kobe beef croquettes available at Asahiya. Can’t wait three decades? The store’s Premier Kobe Beef Croquettes currently have a four-year waiting list for the tastiest.
“We started selling our products through online shopping in 1999,” explains Asahiya’s third-generation owner, Shigeru Nitta. “At the time, we offered Extreme Croquettes as a test.”
Growing up in Hyogo, Nitta visited local farms and beef auctions with her father from a young age.
He bought the store from his father in 1994 when he was 30 years old.
After a few years of experimenting with e-commerce, he realized that customers were hesitant to pay large sums of money for prime beef online.
Shigeru Nitta is the third generation owner of Asahiya.
That’s when he made a bold decision.
“We sold Extreme Croquettes for 270 JPY ($1.8 USD) a piece… The beef in them alone costs about 400 yen ($2.7 USD) a piece,” says Nitta.
“As a strategy for customers to enjoy the croquettes and hope they will buy our Kobe beef after the first try, we have created affordable and tasty croquettes that showcase our store concept.”
In the beginning, to limit the financial loss, Asahiya produced only 200 croquettes every week in his kitchen next to his shop.
“We sell beef raised by people we know. Our store only sells meat produced in Hyogo Prefecture, whether it’s Kobe beef, Kobe pork, or Tajima chicken. That’s how the store was before I became the owner,” Nitta says.
In fact, Nitta’s grandfather used to ride his wheelbarrow and bicycle to another famous Wagyu region in Hyogo, Sanda, to pick up the produce himself.
“From around that time, our store had relationships with local beef producers, so we didn’t have to buy them from outside the prefecture,” Nitta said.
Production has increased, but popularity is increasing
Extreme Croquettes’ cheap price tag flies in the face of the quality of the ingredients. They are made fresh daily without any preservatives. Ingredients include A5 grade three-year-old female Kobe beef and potatoes from a local farm.
Nitta says he encouraged the farm to use cow dung to grow potatoes. The potato stems will then be fed to the cows, creating a cycle.
Eventually, his unique concept caught the attention of locals and the media. When a report came out about Asahiya’s croquettes in the early 2000s, their popularity skyrocketed.
“We stopped selling them in 2016 because the wait was over 14 years. We were thinking of stopping orders, but we got a lot of calls to keep offering them,” says Nitta.
Extreme croquettes are made with three-year-old female A5 grade Kobe beef.
Asahiya started taking orders for these croquettes in 2017, but raised the price.
“At that time, we raised the price to 500 yen ($3.4) to 540 yen ($3.7) with a consumption tax. But the price of beef has doubled since the export of Kobe beef, so croquette production is in deficit. It has not changed. “, – says Nitta.
Production has also been increased from 200 croquettes per week to 200 croquettes per day.
“Actually, Extreme Croquettes have become more popular than other products,” laughs Nitta, laughing at her money-losing business idea.
“We hear that we need to hire more people and make croquettes faster, but I don’t think there is a shop owner who hires workers and produces more to create more deficit… I feel sorry for making them wait. I want to make croquettes. send it soon , but if I do, the store will go bankrupt.”
Fortunately, Nitta says, about half of those who try the croquettes end up ordering the Kobe beef, so it’s a sound marketing strategy.
Nitta’s mission: Let more people enjoy Kobe beef
Each five-piece box of Extreme Croquettes retails for ¥2,700 ($18.40).
The store sends a regular newsletter to waiting customers updating them on the latest shipping estimate.
A week before the delivery date, the store will reconfirm the delivery with sick customers.
“Of course, some people have changed their email address. For those people, we call them directly and tell them the delivery date. They can change their address themselves through our website or they can tell us when we call them.” Nitta says.
Customers buying croquettes these days placed their orders about 10 years ago.
Having a 30-year backlog of unprofitable orders to fill can be stressful, especially as the cost of Kobe beef and labor continues to rise.
But something more important encouraged Nitta to continue.
The wait time for these frozen Extreme Croquettes is currently about 30 years.
“When I started selling croquettes online, I got a lot of orders from remote, isolated islands. Most of them had heard about Kobe beef on TV, but had never bought it, because if they wanted to try it, they had to go to the cities. I realized that there were so many people who had never eaten Kobe beef. There was a.
“That’s why I kept offering croquettes for testing, and if they liked it, I got more orders for Kobe beef. That’s why I started in the first place, so I didn’t care if there was a deficit,” he says. Nitta.
One of the most memorable moments was when they received an order from a cancer patient who was about to undergo surgery while waiting for Extreme Croquettes.
Nitta says: “I heard that our croquets motivated the patient to undergo surgery. That surprised me the most.”
The patient survived and has since placed many orders.
After sampling her croquettes, Nitta received a call from a patient who told her, “I hope the cancer will live long without recurrence.”
“I still remember it. I was touched by the comment,” says Nitta.
By allowing more people to enjoy Kobe beef, he hopes the popularity of these croquettes will help grow the local industry.
“I’m grateful. By being famous, I think I can help not only my shop but the whole industry by getting people interested in Kobe beef. I want as many people as possible to eat Kobe beef — not just from my shop,” says Nitta.
Now here’s how to sample beef croquettes
Asahiya now has two locations: the original store in Takasago City and the store in Kobe City. Its frozen beef croquettes ship domestically only.
Although Asahiya operates primarily as a butcher, Nitta says travelers can visit the Kobe store, where they sell two kinds of ready-to-eat snacks, Tor Road and Kitanozaka, named after nearby streets.
Kitanozaka uses lean beef and costs JPY 360 ($2.50) each. The Tor Road uses a short waist and fork and costs JPY 460 ($3.1).
“We age the meat for 40 days and the potatoes for a month to make them sweeter,” says Nitta.
As for the future, the 58-year-old owner said they are considering expansion.
“I’d like to do a little place where people can have a little bite, maybe. Our Kobe store is a tourist attraction,” he says. “But if it becomes a restaurant, our neighboring restaurants might be upset, because we serve meat to them, too.”
Best image credit: Asahiya.