Seattle’s Eltana bagel chain has a powerful new ally in Japan. Also, some United 777s are ‘seatless in Seattle’ as Boeing supplier Zodiac lags on delivering luxury seating. And, Starbucks helps an MBA student whose website brings together people of different political views.

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Eltana, a small chain of four wood-fired bagel shops in Seattle, was thinking of expanding locally and along the West Coast.

But apparently, fate had other ideas. Now the Eltana concept is set to make an appearance in Japan, of all places.

“It’s curious,” said Stephen Brown, co-founder and president of Seattle-based Eltana. As far as he knows, “there’s no bagel culture in Japan, let alone much of a bread-eating population.”

It wasn’t something Eltana sought out.

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But about seven months ago, the company received an email out of the blue, saying that the president of Osaka-based Fujio Food System — which operates about 700 restaurants in Japan and elsewhere — had eaten at an Eltana store while visiting Seattle and had very much enjoyed both the bagels and the ambience, Brown said.

Masahira Fujio, president of Fujio, likes bagels and also enjoys trying the local fare when he travels for his business, Natsuko Tokaji, of Fujio’s overseas business-planning division, said in an email.

“Always, he enjoys food with (his) five senses and happened to visit Eltana and was fully impressed. He never had such a tasty bagel!” Tokaji said.

Fujio wanted to know if Eltana had thought of expanding into Japan.

“I said we had never considered that. But thank you,” Brown said.

Fujio persisted. The publicly traded company, with more than $300 million in sales, eventually had five representatives visit Seattle to spend time with the Eltana team.

Eltana eventually granted Fujio a license — another thing the bagel chain hadn’t thought of doing so early in its development.

Now, the plan is to build the first Eltana stores in Osaka and/or Tokyo, possibly by the end of this year. If it’s well-received, Fujio intends to expand Eltana throughout Japan.

While Fujio Food System intends to keep Eltana’s core bagel concept, it plans to make some modifications to better suit Japanese tastes, Tokaji said.

Launched in 2010 by Brown and Daniel Levin, Eltana has stores on Capitol Hill, in South Lake Union, on Stone Way between Wallingford and Fremont, and in the Seattle Center Armory.

Brown declined to disclose sales and profit figures for the privately owned company but said its revenues are a few million dollars a year and that it is “moderately profitable.”

Eltana plans to expand along the West Coast in the U.S. In the Puget Sound area, it hopes to open 15 stores, including in Ballard and the Eastside. It’s also exploring opening a site in Los Angeles.

— Janet I. Tu: jtu@seattletimes.com

Luxury-seat snafus slow United 777s

United Airlines faces a new setback in its bid to win back business customers as a supplier’s production snags hinder deliveries of Boeing jetliners outfitted with new luxury seats, Bloomberg News reports.

“Short delays” are affecting two 777-300ER aircraft with United’s Polaris luxury interiors, said Megan McCar­thy, a spokeswoman for the airline. United and the plane maker are working with French seatmaker Zodiac Aerospace to expedite shipments, said McCarthy and Doug Alder, a spokesman for Boeing.

The stumbles will slow United’s efforts to woo international travelers with a rebranding campaign centered on the Polaris cabins, which offer pod-style suites with Zodiac’s lie-flat berths. Zodiac, which agreed to be acquired by European aerospace firm Safran, has also held back production of Airbus Group’s marquee A350 with delays of seats and lavatories.

“It’s not just seatless in Seattle, it’s seatless in Toulouse,” said aviation consultant Robert Mann, referring to the plane makers’ manufacturing hubs and a Tom Hanks movie. “It’s a serious problem and it’s been building.”

Even delays of a month or two could hurt Chicago-based United if, after a year of marketing buildup, the airline misses a chance to deploy the brand-new 777s on high-profile routes to Asia during the peak summer travel season, Mann said by phone.

“You can only make the most money when you have a product in the market at the right time,” Mann said. “You are talking consequential damages.”

Boeing may have to park additional United planes if Zodiac can’t provide the complex seats on schedule. For Boeing and Airbus, receiving lie-flat seats at the right time is crucial because the products can require extensive rewiring, ductwork changes and reinforced cabin floors.

When deliveries run late, plane makers may be forced to remove fittings such as galleys and lavatories so the berths can be installed.

It’s the latest in a series of production stumbles for Plaisir, France-based Zodiac, which warned last month that fiscal 2017 operating profit would plunge 10 percent. Delays also slowed deliveries of Boeing 787 Dreamliners to customers such as American Airlines over the past two years.

At United, Zodiac seats are being installed first on the 777-300ER fleet, then on the carrier’s 787-10 and Airbus A350-1000 jets. Existing 767-300 and 777-200 aircraft also will be retrofitted with the cabins.

“We’re not happy, period,” United Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz told investors at a JPMorgan Chase event in March. “But rather than just be unhappy, we’ve got people on site with the folks there to make sure that we can expedite and accelerate as much as we can.”

Zodiac on March 14 revealed bottlenecks at the Cwmbran, Wales, plant where the Polaris seats are manufactured, as well as problems at U.S. factories that make lavatories for Airbus. The latest production meltdown prompted TCI Fund Management to urge Paris-based Safran to abandon its acquisition of the seatmaker.

Zodiac declined to comment on United, a spokeswoman said this past week. The company said in the March 14 statement that the snags in Wales were “generating significant disruptions and delays that are currently being addressed.”

The production issues plaguing Zodiac are “probably the worst that the seat-supplier sector has seen in a decade,” said Gary Weissel, managing officer with Tronos Aviation Consulting. The French company has lost market share and sales, and been sued by American for fouling up 787 deliveries — a cost typically borne by the carrier, not the plane maker.

Zodiac has struggled to integrate acquisitions and hire an adequate engineering force to design its seats.

“Most people don’t understand the complexity of the products, which must also meet rigorous safety and certification standards for federal aviation regulators,” Weissel said. “It’s a combination of engineering, design and artistry all coming together.”

— Bloomberg News

App seeks to bridge political chasm

After the presidential election, it became abundantly clear to Henry Tsai, an MBA student at Harvard Business School, that he and others lived in an echo chamber where they didn’t hear from people with different political perspectives — or, when they did, they ended up fighting.

Within a few days, he launched an app designed to address that chasm: Hi From The Other Side, where people who sign up are matched with others holding different political views, in order to have conversations and find common ground.

And currently, as an incentive to get people to sign up and converse, Hi From The Other Side is offering a Starbucks gift card for each pair of conversationalists to be matched.

Starbucks donated 300 $10 e-gift cards — something it does with many nonprofits — after Tsai contacted the coffee company.

“If two strangers are having a conversation and they want to meet up in public, one of the first places they think about is Starbucks,” Tsai said. “Having conversation over a cup of coffee — it make things more friendly.”

Tsai’s project, built with technical lead Yasyf Mohamedali, a senior in computer science at MIT, has about 4,500 people signed up and there’s a waiting list.

When people join, they say whom they supported in the last election and whom they would like to talk to (for example, an independent might want to talk to a Hillary Clinton supporter, or a Clinton supporter might want to talk to a Donald Trump supporter, and vice versa).

They also disclose a little more about themselves, such as what their hopes and dreams were when they were young — details that help make sure those who sign up want to have civil discussions and to help find existing common ground to make better matches, Tsai said. Matches are made using an algorithm.

If matches can’t be found locally, the app will try to find someone elsewhere in the country, with participants free to connect by phone or video chats.

Hi From The Other Side also provides a conversation guide to get the talks flowing.

The feedback has been positive so far, Tsai said.

A pair of women in the Bay Area video chatted, and then invited each other to their homes, he said. Others have said that after the initial chat, they agreed to keep emailing and calling each other.

To make sure both sides of a matched pair show up to redeem their free Starbucks drinks, the app gives each of the two participants half of the code to redeem the card.

Working together to get their free coffee, Tsai said, is also a good way “to just get people to work together, even before having a conversation.”

— Janet I. Tu: jtu@seattletimes.com