A Dying Man’s Lost Recipe Made His Daughter a Multimillionaire

Min Jeong Lee, Hiroyuki Sekine, and Toshiro Hasegawa wrote . . . . . .

When Hiroe Tanaka’s father died, he left behind something that would change her life: a recipe for fried meat on a stick. It was an act of love. His daughter adored the Japanese street food known as kushikatsu, and he’d spent endless hours working out how to make it just right.

The handwritten memo, which detailed how to cook the seemingly simple dish, helped save a restaurant business from bankruptcy in 2008, elevated Tanaka from part-time employee to vice president of a company named after her, and made her a multimillionaire. The university dropout who once worked as an office lady now sets strategy for the $82 million Kushikatsu Tanaka Co.

“I pay tribute to my father every day,” Tanaka, 46, says in an interview. “It all happened because of the recipe.”

Kushikatsu Tanaka started trading in September after a popular initial public offering priced at the top of its indicative range. The shares, which are listed in Japan’s Mothers market for smaller firms, gained more than 50 percent through the end of last week. They rose 0.3 percent on Monday.

The chain has come a long way since it opened its first restaurant in Tokyo in December 2008, where Tanaka and Keiji Nuki, the company president, used second-hand kitchen equipment to keep costs down. Kushikatsu Tanaka now has 146 branches across Japan and one in Hawaii. It plans to open 40 more this year.

The pace of expansion is one of the fastest in Japan’s cut-throat restaurant world. And while that’s partly due to the company’s strategy of bringing the business model employed by 100 yen discount stores to the food industry, offering dishes at their cheapest possible prices, it’s also, Tanaka says, very much down to her dad.

Kushikatsu, a dish made by battering skewered meat and vegetables, deep-frying them and then dipping them in sauce, is common on the streets of Osaka, in the west of Japan’s main island, where Tanaka grew up. It’s less known in other parts of the country. The food originated as a quick, filling meal for laborers.

On special occasions when Tanaka was a child, whenever someone asked her what food she wanted to eat, she’d always say kushikatsu. Her father, she says, realized what others didn’t: that cooking it is an art. The oil, batter and sauce all have to be just right. For years he used his downtime from working as a real estate agent to perfect kushikatsu for her, she says.

Then, when Tanaka was 21, her dad passed away.

As Tanaka went on with her life, doing administrative work at an advertising agency after deciding not to finish a university degree in literature, she tried without success to replicate her father’s kushikatsu. In the late 1990s, she took a job with Nuki, who was running a bar in Osaka at the time, because she wanted to focus on cooking. One of the dishes she constantly tried to make was kushikatsu.

When Nuki, also 46, expanded into Tokyo a couple of years later, Tanaka moved to the capital to work at a high-end restaurant he opened. Again, Nuki let her try to cook kushikatsu, although he didn’t share her passion for the food.

But she couldn’t get it right, even with the help of professionals. After several years, she started to think her father’s kushikatsu would die with him.

“It wasn’t as simple as I thought,” she says. “I began to think, maybe I can’t do it after all.”

At that point, things got worse.

When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, it decimated the customers willing to splash out at Nuki’s restaurants. He told Tanaka the game was up: he was closing down and it was time to go home.

Tanaka wasn’t willing to quit. She even offered to borrow money for the business under her own name. But she accepted it was time to take a step back, and started to pack.

That’s when she found it. It was in a box of memos and mementos from her dad. He’d left her the secret of his kushikatsu after all.

Neither Tanaka nor Nuki had any expectations for the scrawled instructions, which had been corrected over and over. “The discovery wasn’t dramatic at all,” Nuki recalls. “It’s not like the memo had ‘success guaranteed’ written on it.”

But they tried it and it worked. “It was, indeed, the taste of the kushikatsu my father used to cook,” Tanaka says.

Nuki, a newfound kushikatsu fan, decided to make one last attempt to conquer the Tokyo restaurant scene.

He found a small property in a quiet residential area outside central Tokyo, where rent was cheaper. He filled the kitchen with instruments from his old places, and whatever was missing he bought using an auction website. “A lot of people told me not to do it, that the place wouldn’t attract people because there weren’t any other shops nearby,” he says.

But the Tanaka kushikatsu went viral.

People were lined up to get in even at 1 a.m. Nuki had to set up extra tables outside. The number of bicycles parked outside the shop drew complaints from neighbors. Passengers on buses stared with curiosity at the long lines.

Nuki and Tanaka added a second and third store. They all bustled with customers. When a rival kushikatsu joint opened in the trendy Shibuya area of Tokyo, the two decided it was time to turn their business into a franchise.

Franchise Business

“At first, I didn’t like the idea of having others involved,” Tanaka said. But “what I hated most was having people in Tokyo try kushikatsu made by copycats and come away with a negative image that it tastes bad,” she says.

Kushikatsu Tanaka reported 316 million yen ($2.9 million) in operating profit for the year ended November, a 57 percent increase from the previous 12 months. The stock has caught the attention of industry analysts, with three brokerages initiating coverage this year. One says buy and two recommend holding.

Ryotaro Sawada, an analyst at Ace Securities Co. who has a neutral rating on the shares, sounds a note of caution. “The company is targeting 40 stores this year, but investors should be aware of the odds of the number falling short of that goal given the competition,” Sawada wrote in a note to clients earlier this year.

Kushikatsu Tanaka traded at 31 times earnings at Friday’s close, versus an average of 26 times for 194 firms in the Topix Retail Trade Index. Analysts expect the stock to rise 17 percent over the next 12 months.

Tanaka, once one of Japan’s forgotten legion of part-timers, owns 4 percent of the company, a shareholding that’s now worth more than $3 million. In some ways, it’s her father’s last gift. As for the recipe, she says only herself and Nuki have seen it since she found it, and it’s going to stay that way.

“Kushikatsu is life to me,” Tanaka says. “I don’t know what I would do without it.”

Source: Bloomberg


Indian-style Vegetarian Sweet and Sour Eggplant


sunflower oil for deep frying
1 large eggplant, cubed
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons tamarind pulp
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
6 fresh curry leaves


  1. Heat the oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan. When it is almost smoking, fry the eggplant quickly, until it is golden in colour. It is important to have the oil really hot, or else the eggplant will need to remain in the oil longer and will needlessly absorb more oil.
  2. Put 2 tablespoons of the hot oil in another saucepan and add the spice powders. Almost immediately, add the tamarind, sugar and curry leaves.
  3. Cook for a couple of minutes until you get a thick sauce.
  4. Add the fried eggplant, season with salt and cook for a few minutes, mixing gently to blend into the sauce. Serve hot.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Indian in Six

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New Guidelines Say No to Most ‘Keyhole’ Knee Surgeries

Dennis Thompson wrote . . . . . .

“Keyhole” arthroscopic surgery should rarely be used to repair arthritic knee joints, a panel of international experts says in new clinical guidelines.

Clinical trials have shown that keyhole surgery doesn’t help people suffering from arthritis of the knees any more than mild painkillers, physical therapy or weight loss, said lead author Dr. Reed Siemieniuk. He is a health researcher with McMaster University in Toronto, Canada.

“You can make a pretty strong statement saying that from a long-term perspective, it really doesn’t help at all,” Siemieniuk said. “If they knew all the evidence, almost nobody would choose to have this surgery.”

Keyhole surgery is one of the most common surgical procedures in the world, with more than 2 million performed each year, Siemieniuk said. The United States alone spends about $3 billion a year on the procedure.

The new guidelines — published online May 10 in the BMJ — were issued as part of the journal’s initiative to provide up-to-date recommendations based on the latest evidence. The guidelines make a strong recommendation against arthroscopy for nearly all cases of degenerative knee disease.

This includes osteoarthritis as well as tears of the meniscus, the padding between the two leg bones in the knee, Siemieniuk said.

“With age and with use, the grinding of the two bones together can break down that padding,” he said. “It’s very common to see little rips and tears in that padding in patients with arthritis.”

Siemieniuk and his colleagues noted that a trial published in 2016 showed that surgery was no better than exercise therapy in patients with a meniscus tear.

Despite this and other medical evidence, most guidelines still recommend keyhole surgery for people with meniscus tears, sudden onset of symptoms like pain or swelling, or mild to moderate difficulties with knee movement.

Arthroscopic surgery relies on small incisions through which a tiny camera and miniature instruments are inserted. Doctors can remove or repair damaged tissue without having to cut the knee open.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons currently advises against performing arthroscopic surgery in patients with full-fledged knee osteoarthritis, said Dr. Kevin Shea, an academy spokesman.

“Most orthopedic surgeons have dramatically reduced arthroscopic surgery in patients with degenerative arthritis,” Shea said. “Most I know have abandoned it over the last 10 to 15 years.”

However, arthroscopic surgery still can help people with joint movement problems caused by meniscus tears who have not developed moderate or severe knee osteoarthritis, said Shea.

Those patients should be treated first with mild painkillers and exercise therapy, but keyhole surgery should remain an option for them, he added. Shea is an orthopedic surgeon based in Boise, Idaho.

“Not that long ago, I operated on a 67-year-old retired schoolteacher who’s an avid skier,” Shea said. “She had no arthritis in her knee but a huge meniscus tear that kept locking, catching and popping. Not offering treatment to her would not have been fair.”

Under the BMJ guidelines, patients with meniscus tears should be treated with painkillers and physical therapy, as well as weight loss if they are overweight, Siemieniuk said. Knee replacement surgery is the last treatment option, done once degeneration has progressed to the point where all other therapies don’t work.

There is a financial incentive for doctors and hospitals to perform unnecessary keyhole surgeries, but Siemieniuk said these surgeries also might be prompted by the desire to treat a painful medical condition.

“It’s hard to take away one of the options from people when chronic knee pain and arthritis can be very debilitating,” he said. “And there’s an expectation from patients that by the time they see a surgeon, the surgeon is going to have something to be able to offer them.”

Inertia might also play a role. “It’s a lot easier to introduce a new treatment into clinical care than to de-implement one that we later find out doesn’t work,” Siemieniuk said. “That’s what we’re seeing here.”

Keyhole surgery has its downsides. Recovery can last anywhere from 3 days to 6 weeks, Siemieniuk said, and there is a risk of blood clots or infection in the knee.

Patients should go through a shared decision-making process with their surgeon, questioning whether this surgery would truly help them, he said.

The surgery still can be useful to fix torn ligaments or repair damage caused by severe trauma, Siemieniuk said. But in most cases, he said, given the evidence, insurers “may choose not to fund it, which I think would be appropriate.”

Source: HealthDay

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