In the news… Korea Times August 2013
Italian cuisine with Korean twist
‘Mad for Garlic’ offers customers special dining experience
By Park Si-soo
Pizza, pasta and risotto.
The three typical Italian meals are now everywhere in Korea. Perhaps this proves that they have a far-flung consumer base here, but at the same time they are no longer considered “special dishes.”
Mad for Garlic, a casual-dining Italian restaurant, is flexing its muscles to regain its glory with an increased dose of garlic. Non-garlic lovers don’t have to worry about the vegetable’s pungent smell since the company’s “special” way of roasting, frying or mashing removes the smell and deepens the mildness.
The unique recipe made its debut in 2001 through Mad for Garlic’s first restaurant in Apgujeong-dong, an affluent entertainment and residential district in southern Seoul.
There are currently 27 chain stores across the country. Despite the prolonged economic slowdown, the company showed moderate growth last year to post 80 billion won ($71.9 million) in sales and 15 billion won ($13.4 million) in operating profit.
The Seoul-based firm has four overseas branches ㅡ two in Singapore, one in Indonesia and one in the Philippines. The combined sales of the four branches last year accounted for 10 percent of its entire sales. The company plans to enter seven more countries by 2015 in an ambitious project of generating half of its sales in overseas markets.
“We have found our competitive edge with garlic,” said Choo Son-yop, director of overseas business and franchise sales of Sun at Food that owns Mad for Garlic.
“There are many people who are reluctant to eat garlic because of its pungent smell. But we have solved the problem with our special way of cooking that completely removes the smell with no damage to garlic’s nutritional benefits.”
Garlic is scientifically proven to help prevent various diseases, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and atherosclerosis, among others. A recent study by Chinese scientists argued that eating uncooked garlic twice a week can halve the risk of lung cancer.
Choo said the firm gives Southeast Asia top priority when it comes to overseas expansion, adding it will open a chain store in Malaysia, Thailand and India by next year.
“India has a very unique dining culture, so the country’s dining industry still remains untapped by Korean restaurant companies,” he said. “Nonetheless it’s obvious that the market has huge growth potential. We cannot miss out on the opportunity.”
The director said the firm is in talks with an Indian company over its entry into the world’s second-most populous nation with some 1.2 billion people. Representatives of the Indian counterpart will soon visit Seoul for a general inspection of Mad for Garlic restaurants here, he said.
In July, the company announced another plan centered on its expansion into the United States. To spearhead its U.S. expansion, Mad for Garlic has partnered with Bridging Culture Worldwide, an American business consulting firm.
“Mad for Garlic is now ready to expand our base of operations to new markets outside Asia,” Sun at Food CEO Caroline C. Nam said in a statement. “We believe that North America is ready for Mad for Garlic ㅡ we offer about 50 menu items and every dish has something in common ㅡ they are all about garlic.”
Choo said Mad for Garlic’s globalization has just begun, adding his work is focusing on Southeast Asia, India and Japan. The firm has two other overseas business specialists ㅡ one is focusing on China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, while the other is looking into the Middle East and the U.S. market.
He noted that the chain’s global success hinges on overseas business partners.
Specific franchise requirements may vary from country to country. Mad for Garlic does not grant franchise rights or explore joint venture agreements without a thorough check of the potential partners’ attitude and experience in the dining business and capital power, among others.
“The two sides should be on the same page when it comes to business goals and strategy,” he said. “Of course having high profitability is very important. But it’s not the sole goal of our business. We don’t allow anything that challenges the foremost value of our business ㅡ serving healthy food.”