Bruster’s Brings Real Ice Cream to South Korea With a Cherry on Top
South Koreans like their ice cream. How does Bruster’s Real Ice Cream’s CEO Jim Sahene trust that "like" will turn into ROI?
Well, for one thing, there are about 50 million people residing in the southern part of Korea and 1,200 Baskin-Robbins locations already open. The venerable Baskin-Robbins, which is part of the Dunkin’ Brand Group, may have had a head start, but Bruster’s plans to take it head on. Bruster’s signed a development agreement with Hye Young Lee, CEO of Lee & Bruster’s Inc., to open 10 units, the first of which held its grand opening March 31 in Cheonan City (not the capital, Seoul). If all goes well, that number may be increased, Sahene indicated in a phone interview.
“I have great respect for Baskin-Robbins,” Sahene says, but Bruster’s is a different treat. “They manufacture their ice cream at plants and store it in deep freezers; we make ice cream fresh in the store.” And while Baskin boasts 1,000 flavors, Bruster’s touts its 150 flavors, including some new ones just for South Korea—red bean, lychee and honeydew. The popular flavors at the grand opening included mint and coffee, as well as those with crushed Oreos. The store gave away 1,700 free ice cream cones the first day, exceeding its estimate of 1,000.
“Ice cream or coffee shops are more like hangouts (there),” Sahene points out. Apartments tend to be tiny, he adds, so the sweet shops are viewed as an “extension of their living rooms.”
While Bruster’s in the U.S. tend to be walk-up locations—“the parking lot is our dining room,” he says—stores in South Korea will be more along the lines of cafes, located in malls and department stores. The first cafe is a two-story, 50-seat shop with an outdoor terrace and rooms where guests can chill out while they recharge their smart phones and tablets.
Bruster’s isn’t actively pursuing international deals, Sahene says. Lee, who was a fan of the concept when she lived in Atlanta, approached the 200-unit chain, according to Sahene. While they are located in 19 states, Atlanta seems to be a good salesman for the chain. Their only other international location —Guyana—also was the result of the franchisee getting sweet on the Pittsburgh-based chain while living in Atlanta. Having fans takes the cake, but having fans doing deals is the cherry on top.