Wendy’s to head back to Japan

Wendy’s took another step forward in its plan to expand the hamburger chain in foreign markets, signing a joint-venture deal to re-enter Japan, a country it quickly exited in 2009.

The first of the new Japan-based Wendy’s is slated to open in Tokyo later this year and will be developed with Higa Industries Co. Wendy’s and Higa said in a statement Wednesday that they would develop the brand throughout Japan over the next several years, but would not disclose a targeted unit count.

Wendy’s decided in 2009 not to renew its agreement with the former franchisee in Japan, which led to the closures of 71 restaurants there. The Wendy’s chain totals about 6,600 locations worldwide, including 340 restaurants in markets outside of North America.

Higa Industries is led by Ernest Higa, who owned and operated 180 Domino’s Pizza franchised stores before selling the business in February 2010.

“We are pleased to join with Ernie Higa and Higa Industries to build the Wendy’s brand in Japan,” Roland Smith, president and chief executive of parent company Wendy’s/Arby’s Group Inc., said in a statement. “Japan is the second-largest quick-service restaurant market in the world and represents a significant growth opportunity for the Wendy’s brand. We’re also honored by the tremendous outpouring of support we’ve received over the past year from our customers in Japan urging us to return.”

The deal for Japan is the first joint-venture agreement for Wendy’s/Arby’s, which has identified 8,000 foreign-market restaurants as its long-term goal. Of those 8,000 potential locations, about 9 percent of the capacity would be located in Japan, Smith said in January. Another 30 percent of those projected openings would be targeted in China and Brazil, he said.

Wendy’s also announced last week that its longtime franchisee in the Philippines, Wenphil Corp., has agreed to develop 44 more locations in that country, bringing the total number of units in the Philippines to 75.

In Japan, Wendy’s units would promote not only brand signatures like fresh hamburgers with square patties and Frosty desserts but also premium sandwiches and burgers with gourmet toppings that cater to local tastes, Higa said.

Atlanta-based Wendy’s/Arby’s also owns the 3,700-unit Arby’s brand, which it plans to divest.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected]