‘Millennials expect more’: Ex-Huxtaburger chief Matt Fickling is on a mission to shake up Australia’s ramen game

Motto Motto

A Motto Motto restaurant. Source: supplied.

Brisbane-based Japanese restaurant Motto Motto is jumping into franchising and will look to shake up the market for bento and ramen in the coming years after identifying an opportunity for growth in Australia’s ever-diversifying casual dining industry.

Founder William Liu has brought on former Huxtaburger chief executive Matt Fickling to spearhead the expansion plans, which will see the company open a new store before the end of the year.

Currently trading across five locations in Queensland and one in Sydney, Fickling, who helped Huxtaburger achieve runaway growth by tapping into growing interest in high-quality casual dining among millennials, believes Motto Motto is poised to replicate the success of other disruptive brands.

“The team has a licence to be innovative and bring new-age thinking to restaurants and the franchise sector,” Fickling tells SmartCompany.

Born out of Brisbane’s well-known Japanese fine dining restaurant Sono, Motto Motto is hoping to bring restaurant-quality dining to a casual setting, supporting its expansion with a central innovation kitchen that will focus on product innovation while the network chases expansion.

Fickling says NSW will be a particular focus for the business in 2020, but that unlike many other brands, Motto Motto won’t seek to overextend its network.

Instead, in what they hope will be somewhat of a reimagining of the traditional franchise model, Motto Motto will look to retain its boutique status as it expands to preserve a high degree of franchise support and service quality.

Products served at Sono, including its tuna and Wagyu beef sashimi, are being made available to Motto Motto locations in a bid to give the brand an edge in product quality in a market where sushi is widely available but rarely restaurant quality.

“The millennial customer is expecting more,” Fickling says.

Restaurant-style casual dining has exploded in popularity across Australia’s eastern seaboard in recent years, as newer brands such as Schnitz and Roll’d have put upward pressure on product quality and dining experience.

More traditional players such as McDonald’s have responded by improving their own restaurant layouts and expanding their menus with more premium products.

As the market has shifted, smaller firms such as Huxtaburger and Belles Hot Chicken have captured their own slice of the renewed enthusiasm for casual dining.

Now, as growing diversity in consumer tastes — which itself has helped companies such as Guzman Y Gomez make a splash in Australia — creates new opportunities, Fickling sees a gap in the market for a national brand serving Japanese food.

“There’s no-one operating in this space,” he says.

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