Pizza and beer on wheels: Japan’s restaurants find ways around virus

TOKYO — On a quiet residential street in Tokyo, the delicious smells emanating from a nearby food truck stop passersby in their tracks.

Bakka, run by pizzeria Bakka M’unica, serves up freshly made pizza from a wood-fired brick oven right inside the truck. The 1,050 yen ($9.81) margherita pizza and the 1,000 yen four-cheese pizza are among its top sellers.

The restaurant has been closed to eat-in customers since April over the coronavirus pandemic, and sales have fallen by half. But like many restaurants faced with this unprecedented situation, Bakka has found ways to drum up more business — in this case, by letting customers reserve the truck to come out to their neighborhoods.

“Hearing from customers is really heartening,” says Yutaka Hazama, the pizzeria’s 35-year-old proprietor. “I want to go on doing this even after the coronavirus ends.”

With eat-in dining closed, Bakka brings its mobile pizzeria to customers instead. (Photo by Arisa Moriyama) 

A woman with three children comes to the truck to pick up an order. “Since we’re all cooped up, I want us all to enjoy eating together at home,” she says with a smile.

In nearby Yokohama, a group of 18 restaurants in the city’s Chinatown district began offering a joint drive-thru service Wednesday. Customers can order meals in advance and pick them up at a nearby parking complex without exiting their cars.

Bakka says customers enjoy the chewy texture of its pizza crust. (Photo by Arisa Moriyama)

Among the businesses participating in the service is Cantonese restaurant Kitcho, led by Takeshi Tsuruoka, who says his sales are down 90%.

“I’ve worked on this street for over 40 years, and things are even worse than during the Lehman shock,” the 74-year-old laments, referring to the global financial crisis of 2008.

Customers at the Yokohama Chinatown drive-thru can pick up orders without leaving their cars. (Photo by Arisa Moriyama)

The service works well for Kitcho because it is so close to the parking complex, letting the restaurant bring food over right after it finishes cooking, Tsuruoka says.

“I came to support local businesses,” says a customer who visited the drive-thru on its first day. “I’ll use this again.”

Yo-Ho Brewing’s Yona Yona Beer Works restaurant in Tokyo’s Kichijoji district added 2-liter growlers of craft beer to its takeout offerings on April 25 after receiving a temporary alcohol retail permit from tax authorities. A growler of a limited-edition brew goes for 3,300 yen.

Yona Yona Beer Works now offers 2-liter growlers of craft beer to go. (Photo by Rie Ishii)

Takeout sales have jumped 50% compared with when only food was available, according to the restaurant.

“Today is my fourth time” getting takeout from Yona Yona, a customer in his 50s says. “I hope they keep this going for a while even after the coronavirus is over.”

Yona Yona says sales are up 50% since it added beer to the takeout menu. (Photo by Rie Ishii)

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