Food Good Enough to Cross an Ocean

Some American food franchises are big enough to be known in every state and every country around the world. But some are bigger overseas than they are here! And some serve what looks like Western food, but actually come from Japan. You won’t know until you try eating there! …Or until you read this blog.


The original sign from the Lakeside Coco’s next to JCMU

Let’s start with the “restaurant next door,” Coco’s. Connected to JCMU’s academic building and long-time favorite of students and faculty, this popular restaurant actually originated in the USA. Although you’ve probably never seen one if you live outside of the West Coast, Coco’s Bakery and Cafe is a pretty standard classic diner, specializing in pie. It’s currently owned by the Oregon franchise Shari’s Cafe and Pies. In Japan, however, it’s owned by Zensho Holdings, which also owns Sukiya and another restaurant on this list, Big Boy.

There are few similarities between the menus of the two chains—Coco’s USA offers burgers, ribs, and sandwiches, while Coco’s Japan serves Japanese “American” food. This includes hamburg steaks, pasta, and fried fish. Both serve salads, but with different ingredients. The USA restaurants also serve pancakes and a wider variety of pies and other baked goods. No word on whether or not Coco’s USA accepts JCMU student discount cards (signs point to no).

Big Boy

The U.S. Big Boy statue

For some students, their visit to Japan is also their first visit to the red-and-white checkered domain of Big Boy. Although the franchise started around 1940 in California, and at one point had hundreds of restaurants around the country, the chain has since hit a rough patch and is no longer as prevalent. You can find Big Boys in Michigan, California, and North Dakota.

In Japan, on the other hand, the business is thriving. Also owned by Zensho Holdings, Big Boy Japan serves hamburg steaks instead of hamburgers, but proudly displays the big boy statue in front of every location. You’ll pass by him every time you bike to the train station in Hikone. The menu is similar to Coco’s, with Japanese versions of American food rather than the classic menu from the original restaurants. You’d be hard pressed to find a USA Big Boy serving corn soup.


A Starbucks in Shinjuku

Starbucks, which has grown from its humble beginnings in Seattle to a world-wide brand, is known for serving creative drinks unique to each country. Recently in the US, we’ve had the Witch’s Brew Frappucino, which makes the Pumpkin Spice Latte look tame by comparison. In Japan, there’s been an actual pumpkin flavored latte, and dozens of matcha, sweet potato, or fruit inspired beverages. One that made headlines earlier this year was the American Cherry Pie Frappucino, a cherry and vanilla mixture topped with a dome of pie crust. This drink never saw release in America, and there’s no sign of a “Japanese Pie” beverage in the works, either. Darn!

Starbucks is probably a little more common in the US, but there are plenty of them in Japan, too. The closest one to JCMU is in the Beisia parking lot. The drinks seem more inventive in Japan, but do they just seem more exciting because we can’t get them? Clearly, more research and taste-testing needs to be done. Any volunteers?

Beard Papa’s

Beard Papa’s larger-than-life cream puff

Now for one that’s gone the other direction! Beard Papa’s is originally a Japanese chain of bakeries that started in Osaka and spread throughout the country (there’s one at Viva City in Hikone). These days, you can find Beard Papa’s in the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. The menu is largely the same—cream puffs, eclairs, and few other pastries—but the fillings and flavors depend on local interest. Japan gets sweet potato filling, Saudi Arabia gets cinnamon, and the US gets cookies and cream. The flavors rotate each season, with some only available during certain holidays. So whenever you go, you’re bound to find some kind of tasty cream puff, as light and fluffy as Papa’s beard! Delicious.

Whether you live in the US, Japan, or anywhere else, there are restaurants around you that may have come from somewhere else. In the case of Starbucks, it’s easy to see. But some franchises, like Big Boy and Coco’s, are less known in America and are almost unrecognizable in Japan. But either way, the food was good enough to cross the ocean, so go ahead and dig in!

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