What is Your Sesame Chicken?

By Greg Michlig

According to Nori Japan’s website, there are 31 of these restaurants in mall food courts throughout the United States. Perhaps you’ve seen one or even dined at one. Or, if you’ve been in a food court where one of these restaurants is located, maybe you’ve sampled the sesame chicken.

Here in La Crosse, Wis., the Nori Japan restaurant is not so modern looking as the one shown on the corporate website. The photos of the food on the display behind the counter aren’t going to draw many people in. An order is delivered on disposable plates, not the sharp-looking dish shown on the website. All in all, the presentation is average, at best, and the retail display is fairly underwhelming.

As for business? There is almost always a line of people waiting to be served. This past weekend, while doing a little shopping with my family, we grabbed lunch there and sat at a table adjacent to the restaurant. The chicken-centric restaurant next to Nori Japan had shut down, apparently from lack of business. Other restaurants had walk-up traffic with no more than four people in line at any given time. Nori Japan had a consistent flow of customers with frequent lines of eight to 10 people.

So what’s the draw? It’s the free sample of sesame chicken that’s offered to everyone within walking distance of the restaurant, by a person assigned the sole job of passing out those samples. Nothing fancy, just a small piece of chicken with sauce on the end of a toothpick. I’ve seen the process repeatedly, but it wasn’t until this day that I really comprehended the incredible impact this activity had on business. In hindsight, it’s probably why Nori Japan is the first place we think of when the idea of grabbing a bite to eat at the food court comes up. I can guarantee our two youngest children would never have tried sesame chicken, had it not been in the form of a sample (which somehow makes it fun).

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