Aburi Restaurants gets into grocery with Aburi Market
Located in West Vancouver, the 4,000 square-foot store specializes in prepared foods, and also carries flatware and wearables
Photos by Leslie Seto
About a year later than its chief executives had hoped, Aburi Restaurants Canada has made its long-awaited move into the world of grocery retail with the opening of a new grocery store, Aburi Market.
The approximately 4,000-sq.-ft. store at 1350 Marine Drive in West Vancouver sits on the site previously occupied by Meinhardt Fine Foods. Aburi’s chief operating officer, Noriaki Okubo, says it is designed to fill an “underserved” market segment in the city: Premium Japanese grocery.
“Customers can now have a high-end Japanese restaurant experience in their home,” says Okubo. Many of the store’s products are imported directly from Japan, with a particular emphasis on products new to the Canadian market, he said.
Okubo says the pandemic represented a “turning point” for the company, leading it to contemplate new ideas in the hospitality sector—which included adapting its restaurants for take-out and delivery service. The goal, he says, is for the company to move beyond restaurants, while educating consumers on the value of “washoku” (which translates roughly to “harmony in food”).
Aburi will specialize in prepared foods such as those found in the company’s two main restaurants, Miku and Minami. Its product assortment includes fresh sushi, made-to-order bowls, sliced-to-order Iwate Prefecture A5 wagyu beef, and desserts. “We’re basically bringing restaurant-quality food into grocery prep and go,” says Okubo.
The store’s opening comes as the appetite for Japanese food has soared in major markets like Vancouver, which earlier this year was dubbed “the sushi capital of the world” by online food magazine Chef’s Pencil—ranking first on a list of most sushi-crazed cities outside of Japan.
Prepared foods will account for between 65% to 70% of Aburi Market’s product assortment, says Okubo, complemented by frozen meal kits, imported sauces, snacks, and candies. It will also feature lifestyle products such as high-end knives and handmade Arita-Yaki plates.
The company has also enlisted renowned Kyoto artist Hideki Kimura to create a line of colourful home goods and wearables such as T-shirts, shopping bags and tech accessories. Okubo says the product assortment fits with increased consumer desire for “authentic” products that are different and of high-quality.
The store also employs butchers who have been brought in from Japan to cut the wagyu beef to Japanese specifications. Right now, they’re here to train Aburi Market staff, says Okubo, though it’s yet to be decided if they will become permanent additions to the approximately 30-person staff.
“We’re trying to push different ways to eat wagyu,” says Okubo. “The characteristics of wagyu is that it’s very marble-y with lots of flavour, so we like to have customers eat it with vegetables or in a hot pot, which is not very common in this market.”
While he can't provide a timetable, Okubo says the company is “definitely” exploring opening an Aburi Market store in the Greater Toronto Area, and could even start the project before the end of the year.
The company is also exploring opening pop-up stores specializing in specific aspects of Japanese food and culture, such as wagyu, bakery and sushi bento.