If you drop in at BierVana some evenings, you might run into an affable Irishman. That’ll be Trevor Allen, CEO of Ikon Europubs KK and BierVana. Allen will be greeting guests or working with general manager Cohen Eyal to make BierVana one of the hottest places to visit in Tokyo.
You certainly won’t go thirsty – not with 99 brands of beer from 60 countries. The food menu is impressive, too, as is the 10-meter-long screen, which makes it ideal for special sports telecasts (the Rugby World Cup, for example), company events and weddings.
Allen spends most of his time with Ikon Europubs, which imports premium bottled and can products, as well as the widest range of draughts in Japan. As an official importer, Ikon represents some of the world’s top brewing companies, working together to give brand and technical support to its customers in Japan.
Japan Today editor Chris Betros drops by BierVana for a few drinks and to hear more from Allen.
When did you first come to Japan?
I first came here in 1991 as an engineer for a Japanese automotive supplier. I stayed for 4 years and then moved to glass parts maker for six years. Then I invested in the pub business, in Hobgoblin. I thought we could do better with the range of beers and the food than the other pubs at the time.
When did you establish Ikon Europubs?
I started it last year as a premium beer import business. BierVana opened last October.
Why did you decide to open an upscale pub like BierVana?
We’re importing beer from 60 countries and we find ourselves often having to explain the basics of foreign beers to our Japanese customers. So I thought, why not have a venue where we can show off our products? Japanese people in general don’t know our beers and it costs a lot of money to make an impression through advertising. We bring in our customers, let them taste it and give them an explanation.
How has business been this year?
Up until March, we pretty much hit the numbers. The earthquake, of course, affected business. In the first three weeks after it, many of our foreign customers left Japan. Japanese customers stopped coming in. People went home early and nobody was spending. Business is starting to come back and we are hoping to break even by the end of the year. Lunch is our busiest time at the moment.
Who are your main customers at BierVana?
It depends on the day. A lot of foreigners come on Fridays and Saturday night, while Japanese come in mainly on weekdays. We have jazz every Friday night. We used to be open every day but after the quake, we gave up on weekends. But we are planning to open again on weekends soon, now that things are coming back to normal. Currently, we open on Saturday night, but we’re closed Sunday unless we have an event.
Is it a popular venue for events?
Yes, especially parties and weddings. In our early days, we had a lot of “bonenkai” (year-end parties), and we are confident of doing well again this year. Having the big 10-meter-long screen is good for pictures, videos. We can handle about 150 all standing, and have seating for 85.
How do you market the pub?
We don’t do advertising. So far, we have got by entirely on word of mouth. We have done some promotion on Piku (a topic specific social bookmark resource that allows people from anywhere on the web to find and share content) and that has got good results.
How do Japanese customers see BierVana?
One issue is that they want to know what they are getting. Japanese people look in and wonder what we serve, who we are, if we speak Japanese. They may even be fearful of going through a dark door. We want to get more visuals outside so people can easily see what we are about. However, many do enjoy the foreign pub atmosphere. We only have a little bit of Japanese on the menu.
How do you divide your time?
Most of the time I am at the Ikon Europubs office. We have a lot of overseas suppliers to talk to, so I work late. I also try to visit our customers. I usually come here for a weekly meeting and on a few other occasions. I like to chat with customers.
How many staff do you have?
At Ikon, we have 18 – 7 sales, 2 marketing, the rest in logistics and back office. We distribute all over Japan. But most of our business is in Tokyo.
BierVana is located at Prudential Tower 1 Fl, 2-13-10 Nagatacho, Chiyoda-ku. For more information, visit www.biervana.com.