Colorado-based Tokyo Joe's is a fast-food chain that needs to slow down

Tokyo BM 059.JPG
J. Wohletz
The "Yo" salmon roll at Tokyo Joe's.
Fast-casual Japanese food like rice bowls, udon noodles and simple sushi rolls at cheap prices, served in a compact bistro environment that encourages come-as-you-are, quick-service dine-in or even faster carry-out: That's a golden dragon of a concept. But the unfortunate reality I saw while recently having lunch at Tokyo Joe's was a mall food-court mess of noise, confusion and litter, with food that was barely at mall-food standards. The owner/operators of Tokyo Joe's need to slow down and take stock of how and why this Colorado-based chain got so popular so fast -- or risk getting unpopular just as quickly.

Tokyo Joe's was started in 1996 by former pro-skier Larry Leith, who wanted to create a healthy, fast-food alternative by offering simplified, inexpensive, nutritious Americanized Japanese items (effectively birthing the anti-McDonald's). The first two locations in the southern suburbs were so successful that today there are 24 Tokyo Joe's stores in Colorado. And that could be at least two too many.

See also:
- Best Chain - 2007: Tokyo Joe's
- Tokyo Joe's has Denver turning Japanese.
- At at Joe's...Tokyo Joe's

Tokyo BM 054.JPG
J. Wohletz
The not-spicy tuna roll.
Last Saturday I was walking down the 16th Street Mall when I spied a Tokyo Joe's. It was noon and I was hungry -- but I was taken aback by the scary-crowded dining area; the long, winding line to the counter; and the generally loud, cluttered atmosphere. Instead of going in, I headed for the Tokyo Joe's at 901 West Hampden Avenue in Englewood, thinking that location would be less insane -- but it turned out to just as nutty, uber-packed with a long-ass line, and so noisy I could have stood in the middle of the room and blasted an entire Pantera album on a boombox and I doubt anyone would have noticed.

But by now I was really hungry, so I got in line. During my twenty-minute wait, I had plenty of time to choose my order: pork and veggie gyoza ($3), a Joe's Noodle Bowl ($7.10), raw and seared tuna nigiri ($3.70 each), salmon and eel nigiri ($3.70 each), the Joe's roll ($6.10) and one roll each of spicy tuna, unagi, veggie and salmon. The cashier in the chaotic kitchen and counter area looked panicked at my order, and confessed that the sushi-rolling employee had done a no-show, so my food might take half an hour or more.

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J. Wohletz
The sweet & shaggy noodle bowl.
I assured her that I didn't mind, because I'm all-too-familiar with under-staffing problems. While I waited -- another 45 minutes -- I watched a staff that seemed to be moving as fast as it could, doing the best it could with an absolute glut of customers -- and the bodies kept piling into the dining room, where the line was consistently twenty-deep. At a restaurant this busy, adequate staffing should be a high priority -- and having more than one employee cross-trained to roll sushi would be a smart idea.

Still, if the food was good, I wouldn't have minded the wait. But the food was not good.

The gyoza were small, soggy and tasted like the inside of a refrigerator. The Joe's Noodle Bowl was a strange pile of overcooked udon noodles; undercooked edamame; a piece of flavorless, dry, shaggy white meat chicken, and a mess of red pepper bits soaking in a cloyingly sugared broth that made me thirsty. I squirted gobs of sriracha into the bowl, but even that couldn't balance out the sweetness.



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65 comments
edhallett
edhallett

Joes is an amazing place. Yes, sometimes they have bad days but isn't that every single restaurant  It is not Joe's fault that the stores are crowded, that must mean they're doing something right and that is why they continue to open more stores. This was beyond harsh. I agree it sounds like they were having an off day, but if you went to two different locations, sounds like you must have enjoyed their food at some point in time. I think it is very odd that you griped about the veggie roll, hello read the ingredients, of course it has lots of carrots that's the main part of the roll. It comes with cucumber, carrots, celery and wasabi cream cheese.. I see a good balance of all of those things in the picture you took. You do have every right to be upset about the wait time you had for your food, and the girl taking your order should have not look concerned about your order but how do you know how long she had been there, it could have been her 2nd day for all we know. This was a beating on Joe's that I don't think was fair. I love Joe's and all of their employees. It's always a great meal and a great atmosphere. They don't deserve a beat down for a bad day. 


just my humble opinion. 

Heather Curnett
Heather Curnett

Leave it. Kokoro is my go to place for Japanese. Yummy!

John S. Schafluetzel
John S. Schafluetzel

Take(ish?) The one by us (cornerstar--Parker and Arapahoe) has been consistently pretty decent. Had a couple less than great experiences at other locations, though. Pretty hit or miss. Perhaps they need to better enforce our even recodify their standards between stores.

Marisa Rybar
Marisa Rybar

Take it! As a pescatarian, it's awesome to have Tokyo Joe's as a fast-casual dinner option. I love Tokyo Joe's and may just have to go out and get some right now now that it's on my mind...

Josh Makelky
Josh Makelky

Dan Goble suppoorts mediocre rice bowls at ridiculous prices!!! BOOO!!!

Darby Mitchell
Darby Mitchell

I like it and im actually eating some right now.

Dan Goble
Dan Goble

Josh Makelky is a bitter little man - TJ is still a good place if you aren't a food snob!

Sue Ryan
Sue Ryan

I know dollar scoops that are better

Drew Little
Drew Little

UnSafeways sushi is better. And who thinks 2000+mg's of sodium in a single bowl is healthy?

Josh Makelky
Josh Makelky

Leave it. They used to have a good product. The quality of the food has suffered, the service has gotten worse. This market is too competitive to slack like they have the last few years....

Sam Martinez
Sam Martinez

That's why nobody goes ther, it always too crowded--Y Berra

Mark
Mark

I could not agree with this review more.  The food is horrible as is the atmosphere and the wait for the horrible food they serve you.  If you've eated real asian food you'll notice the difference, if you haven't continue to enjoy your experience here which some of you seem to.

Marcus Rose
Marcus Rose

We ate there yesterday actually.... Food was good, but too many frigging people. All of them looking like office people trying to seem hip. Instead of enjoying my meal.... I was just overly annoyed!

Marcus Rose
Marcus Rose

We ate there yesterday actually.... Food was good, but too many frigging people. All of them looking like office people trying to seem hip. Instead of enjoying my meal.... I was just overly annoyed!

David Spohn
David Spohn

I can make better cheaper, people need to learn to cook and quit fast fooding period.

David Spohn
David Spohn

I can make better cheaper, people need to learn to cook and quit fast fooding period.

Scratch
Scratch

"I've had nothing but amazing experiences at Tokyo Joe's."  Honestly?  This place gets away with a lot due to being one of the few fast options with healthy food.  I eat at Joe's at least once a week.  75% of the time it's good the other 25% of the time the food isn't fresh and the portions consistently change. Buyer beware the sushi is not a good value and is consistently blah!

roger.lynn
roger.lynn

Like any place TJ's has to deal with two things at every one of their stores, the management and the people who work there.  I usually have not had problems with the latter, but sometimes the former has me wondering.  Most TJ's are great, but when they are understaffed, when the staff is not happy because of whatever is going on in the kitchen or office then it is the diners that suffer.  TJ's tends to hire those who some places would shy away from.  You see a lot of tats and piercings but in all but one case the staff have always been attentive, friendly and usually go out of their way to make you happy.  However when I get poor ingredients, overcooked (can you say either precooked or worse yet, stuff that has been left there long after it should have been tossed and a fresh batch made) food or small portions then I will always look to fault the management.  If you have a problem, contact TJ's corporate offices.  Except for getting my FOB which was sort of like an adventure game, I have always gotten quick and satisfactory responses from corporate.  They are the only ones who can deal with or change bad management when it happens.  I still love TJs and still go there on a regular basis, but the two I frequent most are both well run and seem to have both good staff and management.  Wish they were all this way.

Kevin Isaacson
Kevin Isaacson

Meh. It's fine if you're in a hurry, I'd never go out of my way for it. Pei Wei is much better.

Kevin Isaacson
Kevin Isaacson

Meh. It's fine if you're in a hurry, I'd never go out of my way for it. Pei Wei is much better.

jenna-furrr
jenna-furrr topcommenter

@edhallett I respectfully disagree--I though it was just harsh enough. Handling raw foods is not something to be taken lightly, and I wasn't concerned about the wait time, just the terrible food--and warm fish. I've had sushi that was bad, and sushi that was warm, but this was the first time I got both at the same time.

jenna-furrr
jenna-furrr topcommenter

@Ariana Nicole Yuppers.

jenna-furrr
jenna-furrr topcommenter

@Christine Peabody True story. : )

jenna-furrr
jenna-furrr topcommenter

@Michael J. Estes LOL! I like a clean colon--DGMW--but I also like to have a living colon.

jenna-furrr
jenna-furrr topcommenter

@John S. Schafluetzel That sounds like a reasonable suggestion.

jenna-furrr
jenna-furrr topcommenter

@Josh Makelky I completely agree. : )

jenna-furrr
jenna-furrr topcommenter

@Kevin Isaacson I had some amazingly good--and cheap--grub at Pei Wei. Have you tried the caramel chicken? : )

jenna-furrr
jenna-furrr topcommenter

@Pete Freeman Bahahahahaaaa!

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