In September, 2011 Loving Hut foods began selling its breads and protein products–such as vegan ham, fish, cutlets and meatballs–as well as locally prepared vegan bentos at Ginza’s landmark Matsuzakaya department store, billed as “the first department store in Tokyo.”
With more than 120 restaurants in 24 countries, Loving Hut is the fastest growing vegan restaurant chain in the world, most notably in Asia. In addition to 50 establishments in Taiwan, over 40 shops were started in Korea within the past 2 years.
Loving Hut opened its flagship Tokyo restaurant three years ago. One reason the chain has not flourished may be that awareness of veganism is low in Japan, where most vegetarian restaurants are based on macrobiotic principles. Another possible explanation is the Japanese wariness over organizations with spiritual ties (such as Loving Hut’s originator, the Supreme Master Ching Hai).
Not to be deterred from its mission to “Be Veg, Go Green, Save the Planet”, Loving Hut has slowly made inroads by selling its vegan lunch boxes in Tokyo convenience stores and grocery stores. However, its debut in Ginza’s landmark Matsuzakaya is a major step, since bustling “depachika” (department store basements) are highly esteemed places for Japanese to obtain fresh produce and sample a variety of unique gourmet and international foods.
If Starbucks history in Japan is any guide, Loving Hut should benefit greatly from the exposure. The coffee giant opened its first Japanese store in Ginza (just behind Matsuzakaya) 15 years ago and now has over 900 stores, spawning hundreds of imitations and popularizing coffee house culture.
Even if just a small echo of that boom, one hopes that Loving Hut’s depachika breakthrough will launch a trend of plant-based diets in Japan.
Loving Hut Image Source: William Santoro