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Tuesday, March 5, 2002

Revamped Kitashinchi bar pulls 'em in with 100 yen drinks

Staff writer

OSAKA -- As deflation sweeps the country, people are used to seeing falling prices. Yoshinoya's beef bowls are going for 280 yen, McDonald's burgers for 80 yen, and the list goes on and on.

But you could hardly expect to have an alcoholic drink for a mere 100 yen, especially in Osaka's pricey Kitashinchi district in Kita Ward, where a night out can start with hostesses and end with a five-digit-plus bill.

One Coin Bar Kaz is neither a standup bar nor an open-air stall, but a nightclub on the fifth floor of a building surrounded by hostess clubs.

In fact, the place was used as a nightclub before it opened in October and has kept its interior unchanged, said Manager Seiji Sumida, 60, whose sister formerly ran the club.

Unlike neighboring bars and clubs or even an all-100 yen shop where each item actually costs 105 yen (with the consumption tax), Kaz serves all drinks and snacks at 100 yen even. The menu includes beer, whiskey and "shochu" liquor as well as cheese and sausage plates and tofu, although sake is not available.

Sumida took charge of the bar as his sister was about to close the club due to a falling number of customers amid the protracted recession.

Because a considerable number of customers in the area are used to drinking and eating at their firms' expense, the ailing economy and deflation have kept them away from Kitashinchi, he said. "But I thought that there are plenty of company employees who still want to have a drink after work with their own money. I figured that if I can have them as my customers, this business would pay even if the per-customer transaction is low."

So far, he is doing "just fine," with an average 80 customers a day with 600 yen per customer sales, Sumida said. In fact, he was busy accommodating customers on eight seats at the counter and two corners with sofas that accommodate about 10 people.

Sitting on bar stools, Tsuyako Morishita and her friend were knocking back a few cocktails with some snacks. "This is the second time I came here. The atmosphere is very friendly and, most of all, it is cheap. And unlike other clubs, even we women can step in on our own, " she said.

Sumida said he came up with the idea of opening the all-100 yen bar after visiting an all-100 yen shop. "I thought I could do this with drinks," he explained.

To reduce costs, service is simple. Customers at the sofa seats come to the counter to buy drinks and all payments are cash-on-delivery. For refills of the same drink, customers have to bring their glasses to the counter.

Earlier this year, Sumida established the One Coin Bar Association to franchise the system, which charges members a 200,000 yen initial fee and a 20,000 yen monthly membership fee but takes no royalties. "I hope other bar owners suffering from the business slump will prosper once again," he said.

About 50 people from across the country showed up for explanatory seminars on the franchise held in January and February, and Sumida hopes to have 50 members by year's end.

Some are skeptical of operating such a cheap bar in Kitashinchi. A manager of a well-established bar in the area, which serves whiskey and water for about 1,000 yen, said his customers are paying for the luxurious atmosphere of his club. "What we offer is the atmosphere of Kitashinchi, where customers can feel good and have a good time. Those who go to cheap bars and restaurants are different from our customers," said the manager, who declined to be named.

He questioned how long such a bar could remain profitable in a place where many customers either enjoy the luxurious ambience or dine with their important customers for business purposes.

But Sumida was confident that the number of his customers would increase because "those who want to drink with their own money want to drink every day. After all, our drinks are cheaper than a cup of coffee."

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