Endo / suginoshita
Even squids want to be designed (Part 1)
An unexpected entry was included in the 2023 GOOD DESIGN GOLD AWARD. It was Endo’s Gesoten squid leg tempura. Community-based stores are disappearing with the emergence of large supermarkets and mass retailers. Endo, a local store in Yamagata, once struggled under such circumstances. The reason why it survived is the combination of design and local soul food Gesoten. The food has become popular, attracting people even from other prefectures. A client and creators work together to develop and expand innovation. We are getting closer to the secret.
At one point, the community-based supermarket was in danger
Hidenori Endo (Endo’s owner) Welcome from far away. I assume that you’ve seen the store in photos before. What is your first impression after actually visiting?
— It’s cozy. It has the comfortable atmosphere of a local supermarket. I want such a store in my neighborhood. It’s nostalgic, but the logo of Gesoten and characters are edgy and not old-fashioned.
Endo Everyone says they feel comfortable. Endo was founded in 1965. I am the third generation. I didn't intend to take over the store. I worked at a supermarket in Gunma and restaurants in Tokyo. Then, I started thinking that I wanted to do a pioneering job, and returned to my parents' house. It was about 15 years ago.
At that time, half of the shutters remained closed, and very few customers came. I sold ingredients to nurseries, and sold the remaining at the store. It was a very small business.
— It was a situation where the store could be closed at any time.
Endo From the late 1960s to the 1980s, there were no other stores in the neighborhood. Everyone bought at Endo, which had a lively atmosphere. But over time, a large supermarket opened nearby, and a mass retailer appeared. People began to turn to such stores. Endo nearly disappeared with the changing times.
I want to make something delicious that can attract customers.
Satoshi Suzuki (art director at Suginoshita) Your father, the previous owner, said he had thought of closing the store but you had saved it.
Endo Even after I started working here, only old regular customers and sometimes other occasional customers came in. Even if I stocked good fresh fish, much of it went unsold. The customers were mainly in their 70s and 80s. When I thought about 10 years from now, I had to be able to attract young people. I thought a lot about what I could do, what would sell....
I wanted to make something delicious for customers to come to us. That was Gesoten. That was my thinking seven years ago.
— Gesoten is squid leg tempura that has been eaten in Yamagata for a long time.
Endo Endo sells fish. Squid body is usually served as sashimi or fried calamari. But the legs are used only for tempura or karaage, and don’t sell well. A lot of squid legs are stored frozen.
Endo We traditionally eat Gesoten at a soba restaurant in Yamagata. But there were no restaurants specializing in Gesoten. So, I thought it would be a good idea to sell freshly fried Gesoten. It can be served in any season. I thought the sky was the limit and started making it. In addition, we made simmered dishes, croquettes, grilled fish, and other dishes that would serve as side dishes for customers who came here every day.
— Was Gesoten newly developed?
Endo Yes, it was. I tried new ways of cooking, tried rice oil... I tried something new. But if you cook normally, tempura is usually delicious (laughs).
I didn't do anything too complicated, but I did a lot of research to find out how to fry squid so that it would stay crispy for a long time and how to make soft fried squid because squid becomes hard when cooked as it is.
— In your casual words, I feel your insatiable curiosity and commitment to making delicious food.
The design of the wrapping paper was transformed into branding
— I would like to ask about the design of Gesoten. The VI (visual identity), including packaging, characters, brochures, goods, etc., stands out. Did you think about an approach to design from the beginning?
Endo No, I have no idea about design. After developing something I liked, I put up banners in front of the store and advertised it for people to know about it. That led to introductions on the radio and participation in events. About one year after the development, it was gradually gaining recognition. At that time, I came to know of Suginoshita (design office).
That was when I thought of making new wrapping paper because I was running out of the old one. But I had no idea what to do because I only knew that design was a job like making billboards or something like that.
Endo At that time, I noticed a flower shop card in my friend's beauty salon. Somehow, I was curious about it. I was introduced to Suginoshita, and asked them to help with the design. I thought they would make some interesting wrapping paper. Then all of a sudden, they brought a branding plan!
Suzuki This job came shortly after I launched Suginoshita with Mr. Koseki, who had been working as a designer and art director in Tokyo. I am originally from Yamagata and knew Endo. The store was in bad condition at that time and looked like it was going out of business.
Endo Anyone would think so.
Suzuki That's why I thought it was a troublesome job. But when I tasted Gesoten, it was delicious. I could see that Endo was working hard with Gesoten.
The fish they serve is also delicious. Mr. Endo has a reputation as a connoisseur of fish. He goes not only to the wholesale market in Yamagata, but also to buy fish from Tsukiji in the past and now from Toyosu. He buys fish that is not available around here.
Suzuki As Mr. Endo said earlier, Gesoten is eaten as a side dish of soba in Yamagata. It is a soul food that can be found in any soba restaurant, but there are no restaurants specializing in Gesoten. I thought it might be possible to do something interesting using it.
But first I was told to include fish, vegetables, as Endo was originally a grocer, and all other things he sells on the wrapping paper. I thought it was too much of a bother (laughs).
Considering the situation of the store, it doesn't make sense to only make wrapping paper. It will be in vain. If it was just wrapping paper design, I wouldn't have accepted the job. I wanted to do the whole thing.
Tsukasa Koseki (illustrator at Suginoshita) Then, I prepared a project proposal and presented it. We made a mission to create a vibrant local supermarket Endo by expanding the scope of Gesoten and making Gesoten a specialty.
Endo They asked me if I would like them to do the branding, but I couldn't give an immediate answer. I didn't even know the word “branding.” I knew that I had to make some changes to the store in the future, and I knew I had to do something for that, but I had no budget.
But then suddenly I realized that such an opportunity arose. They gave me a well-defined proposal, which was interesting and made me feel I could make it.
Designers propose flavors
— You revived the store by developing delicious Gesoten and spotlighting merchandise with design. It’s also interesting that the door to the store’s revival suddenly opened when Mr. Endo didn't expect it.
Suzuki I thought Gesoten would become a trigger to revive the store and wanted to establish many points of contact. So, first, I proposed a package like a bag for french fries.
Suzuki I thought Gesoten would be sold like Karaage-kun (bite-sized pieces of Japanese-style fried chicken) sold at the convenience store cash register. In order to redefine gesoten, which had only been recognized as a side menu at a soba restaurant, as a snack, we created a character and provided many opportunities for people to see and try Gesoten.
— There are now 11 flavors available. How did you develop the menu?
Endo Both flavors and the menu were suggested by Suginoshita. We started with Salt Lemon, Curry, Cheese and Spicy Hot, and then increasingly developed. We also expanded the menu little by little, such as adding Gesoten as an ingredient for a rice ball like tenmusu (shrimp tempura rice ball).
As a result, the customer demographic, once primarily composed of people of our grandparent and parent generations, diversified with the introduction of new flavors, and more families with children, and eventually young children and teenagers, began to visit. Now, we see people of all ages, people from outside the prefecture, and those from overseas. I think the use of SNS is also a big factor.
— You actually develop flavors in response to proposals.
Endo Yes. We all try them. After reaching a consensus, I start selling them.
Suzuki There were some failures (laughs).
Endo It’s quite a challenge to make what everyone thinks is delicious. It’s hard to get a unanimous agreement. I researched snacks like barbecue chips. I went to convenience stores and ate various foods.
— That's how you researched and developed from scratch and made it. Even the term “Gesoten flavor development” is unique. I want to taste it.
Endo It was something likely, but did not exist. Since it's tempura, there are many possibilities for variations.
Suzuki From the beginning, I was also aiming for having an eat-in corner in the store.
Endo The store is located one minute from JR Uzenchitose Station. People with too much time until their train come to eat to kill time. More people are buying them as souvenirs.
As word of mouth spread, more and more people started coming to the store. At first, I did business with my family. I was so busy that at the end of the year I was sometimes dozing off while frying. Then I woke up when my hand touched the oil. I think I’ve managed to overcome everything.
The key is the rapid succession of new approaches
Design points: Gesoten has been eaten in Yamagata since the Edo period. It has a rich flavor and a unique texture. It is familiar to people in Yamagata. But there were no restaurants specializing in it. Suginoshita proposed an intuitive logo, an easy-to-pick-up package, and the diversification of flavors to expand the scope of Gesoten and appeal to more people. It also created a stir on social media and by word of mouth. Endo has also attracted attention as a thriving local supermarket.
— In addition to Gesoten, local specialty sujiko has also become a character. Both of you decide on the VI (visual identity) including characters and logos, is that right?
Koseki Endo has many elderly customers, so, I wanted to do something new to attract both young and elderly people. I designed things from the good old days that also fit with the store.
— Old people remember the good old days, and young people feel something new. How did you make both happen?
Endo I thought of balancing both. It's easy to lean toward something new. But having traditional items like Vermont Curry or regular vinegar is what defines Endo. I appreciate their help in balancing new and old. I think anyone can come to the store without hesitation.
— You first asked me about my impression of the store. When did this atmosphere come together?
Endo It started to take shape in the third year. Before that, half of the store was office space occupied by electrical cables.
Suzuki We not only design graphics, but we also do everything from creating a store to suggesting employment. It's a consultancy service.
Koseki We started with cleaning the store. The store was filled with packages. Even windows were blocked. So, we started with clearing the floor.
— The floor can be traced back to when it was tiled with vinyl composition tiles.
Endo I peeled them off with my children. Then, we renovated the kitchen into an open kitchen and got a new fryer. We use what we have in the store as much as possible without spending much money. I think it suits this space.
Suzuki Because the original was terrible, no matter what we did, everything went well (laughs). At first, I didn't know what store it was.
Endo Yes, you’re right (laughs). When we cleared the store, the original form of the store emerged.
— As a result, Gesoten has revitalized supermarket Endo, which has never been more thriving. Mr. Suzuki, did you expect this to happen?
Suzuki Yes, but it was faster than I expected. It's amazing. Sales have increased five times over the past five years.
Endo The first was low (laughs).
— It's not easy to come from nowhere to become popular.
Suzuki Countless privately owned stores have disappeared as large supermarkets appeared all over Japan.
— Once again, I feel the power of Gesoten as a catalyst. I think there are some secrets to your success. You did something new and made your plans a reality, with a view to design.
Endo Suginoshita have come up with various good plans. So, I’ve proceeded with them. I have to start the plan soon after receiving their proposal. So, I feel I’m always doing something. I could not take in many ideas they came up with. I’ve decided to work hard in order to increase sales.
Suzuki Mr. Endo is quick to make a decision. He may not carefully read our proposals.
Endo I carefully read them. I think deeply while soaking in the bath. They always give me a perfect proposal and have a perfect point.
Mr. Endo is a busy business person and food developer. Mr. Suzuki and Mr. Koseki go beyond branding and help with the management of Endo. The second part introduces the process in which they made the design a reality.
Endo / Suginoshita
Endo's Gesoten was released in July 2018. Endo is a community-based supermarket. Before selling Gesoten, it faced a financial crisis due to the opening of a large chain supermarket. They revitalized the store by creating delicious, unprecedented, and highly appealing products. The award recognizes the overall efforts in VI, store design, product and service development, packaging, event planning, and promotion. https://gesoten.jp
- Award details
- 2023 GOOD DESIGN GOLD AWARD Gesoten "Endo’s Gesoten." https://www.g-mark.org/en/gallery/winners/20409
After working in the editorial department of “AXIS,” she became a freelancer. She writes, edits, and plans, with a focus on design and life culture. Her major editorial works include LIXIL BOOKLET series (book, LIXIL Publishing) and “Oishisa no Kagaku” (magazine, NTS Publishing).
While studying design at a vocational school, he encountered photography. He became absorbed in photography and went on to art college. After moving to Tokyo, he started working at a photography studio, mainly shooting fashion and archiving art works. He has been trying to shoot from the gap between various expressions and fields.