One of the reasons I love Taiwan is the creative and sometimes surreal way that they try to both take advantage of the market strength of a popular property and at the same time skirt the edges of having to gain approval from and pay a licensing fee to the property owner. Its an entire component of the culture dedicated to as getting as much marketing power out of a well-known brand as possible without having to ask permission from or give up any income to the brand. Sometimes its hilarious.
Yes, Brick Works is another toy brand-themed restaurant, this time based on the popular Lego property. Much like Tokyo, themed restaurants are quickly becoming the norm in Taipei. In fact, the restaurant that I would say kick-started and popularized the genre locally was the obnoxiously pink, faux Victorian Hello Kitty Sweets, created as a partnership between a local businessperson and the Japan cultural staple organization Sanrio.
As I pointed out in last week’s Top 5 Taiwanese Street Market Foods article, there are many more great eats to be consumed than just the five in my list. In fact, there’s a good chance that my top 5 doesn’t even contain one of another Taiwan residents top 5. So, here is some overflow designated as Honorable Mentions.
Last Saturday, as we often do, my family went to our closest Taiwan street market, the Raohe Street Night Market in Taipei. As we were sitting in the taxi for the short trip from our apartment in the northeast corner of the Songshan District to the market entrance, which neighbors the Songshan train station ten minutes away, I listened in on the excited words being passed between my kids and my wife. Their conversation consisted almost entirely of which snacks they were planning on eating at the market and which snacks they were planning on taking home to eat later.
And who can blame them? I was mulling over the exact same thing.
Both my taxi driver and and my sister-in-law claimed that this is currently the best restaurant in Taipei to get seafood. Im not much of a fan of seafood myself (Im kind of the opposite of a pescitarian), but the street-side kitchen made for a cool photographic subject. If you do enjoy giant crab and happen to be in Taipei, you can find 89 Seafood here.
Now on to the pictures.
Taipei now has a second officially Sanrio-approved eatery and, thankfully, it involves far less pink. In fact, there’s no pink at all. Kiko’s Diner in Taipei soft-opened about a week ago and is set to have it’s grand opening January 1st. Contrary to it’s older sister Hello Kitty Sweets, which sits just a couple of blocks away, Kiko’s Diner is less of a novelty-themed restaurant and is more in the style of a business lunch restaurant in both appearance and menu items.
Boyfriends and spouses of the Sanrio-obsessed need not fear.
The Barbie Cafe in Taipei, Taiwan is not the first Barbie-themed restaurant in the world but it is the first Barbie-themed restaurant in the world officially licensed by Mattel H.Q. In El Segundo, California. The obvious question is Why Taipei?. Themed restaurants are very popular in Asia in general and seem to be especially popular in countries like Japan, China, and Taiwan. In China, enforcement of intellectual properties and trademarks is ridiculously lax making it a poor environment in which to open a business that relies on its branding as a selling tool. In Japan, the market has matured (and might even be called glutted). While theme restaurants are popular in Taipei, there is still room for new players here. It also helps that one of the most popular restaurants in the city is the Sanrio-approved Hello Kitty Sweets, which has remained popular for some time. In demographic terms, they appeal to the same pie. And guess where the Barbie Cafe is located? Its less than a block from Hello Kitty Sweets, so Mattel is well aware of the demographics.