Why a sushi restaurant? For the direct responses from customers.
What was your original impetus for entering the culinary world?
I was born to a Hiroshima fishing family, but in high school I worked part time at a Chinese restaurant. I thought, “Cooking is really fun,” and I decided to follow that path.
Then I went to a lot of different restaurants on school field trips, but in those days they didn’t have open kitchens. Japanese food, Chinese food, western food, patisseries — with all of that kitchen work, I realized that only sushi restaurants had chefs who prepared food at a counter in front of customers. I like to stand out, so I decided to become a sushi chef.
The training period where he studied at the fish market after more experienced employees had fallen asleep
So, after you graduated high school, you went right away to train at a sushi restaurant?
Yes, I worked for a national Tokyo-style sushi company called “Sushiden, Inc.” I was drawn to the
Hanshin Tigers’ Dotonbori dive, so I was hoping to be assigned to an Osaka branch store.
I’m surprised that your impetus for coming to Osaka was the Hanshin Tigers. …Were you able to do the Dotonbori dive like you dreamed?
Well, actually Hanshin won the year I entered the company, so that dream was granted right away. I actually did the Dotonbori dive . [laughs]
That’s amazing! And now you’re still here in Osaka. Fate is interesting. …So, the sushi world has a particularly stern image, but how was your everyday work?
I just thought, “I don’t want to lose to my peer employees.” When I first joined the company I lived in shared company housing and my work ended late at night, at 2 AM, so I waited for the more experienced employees to sleep and slipped out of the building around 5 AM. I was allowed to study at the fish market the company bought from.
You were young, but that’s a hard schedule. Did you ask to study at the fish markets?
At first I half-jokingly asked them, “Won’t you let me go?” But they said, “Sure.” So I went every day, but they told me that I would exhaust myself and to limit myself to going half the week, so I kept visiting for half of the week. There, they taught me about washing methods, scale removal, standards for choosing and evaluating fish, and so on. The company also brought me on fish stocking trips.
Even though you had just graduated high school, you thought about studying at the fish market. You have guts. At the company, about how many people were hired at the same time as you?
There were a total of 100 people, with about 10 in Kansai. At that time, both my parents wanted me to continue the family business of fishing, and opposed me taking a culinary path. They told me, “Produce results in 5 years. Don’t come back in 3 years,” which actually motivated me. My resolve may have changed.
Thanks to studying at the fish market, I was promoted to the senior staff at 22, and restaurant manager at 24. I was able to quickly pass the company’s qualification tests. But even though I acquired restaurant manager qualifications, I wanted to work under a supervisor I liked rather than be the restaurant manager. So the whole time I worked for the company, I was in second place.
The New Otani period where he learned the “lose to gain” managerial style from his beloved superior
It’s surprising that you tended toward being second in command. Around when did you reach a mindset of independence? And what did you learn up until that point?
It was around age 24, when a sponsor asked, “Wouldn’t you like to go independent?” At that time, my beloved superior really looked after me. He told me, “You have culinary skill and conversational skill, but you don’t know how to manage a business. Work under me for another three years.” So I transferred to the restaurant he managed in Osaka, “Kenzan Hotel New Otani.”
That’s when he taught me the managerial mindset of “lose to gain.”
If you only think about benefits to the restaurant, customers notice. That kind of restaurant disappears. But if you devise new ingredient combinations and make a restaurant that — although it may have small profits — both the staff and customers enjoy, at slow times customers call one another in. There will be regulars who say things like, “There aren’t any reservations today, so I’ll invite someone,” or, “If you call me by 4:00, I’ll definitely go.” I’m extremely grateful for that in my restaurant.
The truth is, it’s not restaurants who see the same big spenders come in once every couple of months, but ones that see constant regulars who come in twice a month that have stability. Even with the same proceeds, that’s different.
I learnined that kind of thing while working. When I was independent, a newcomer with the same zodiac sign as me entered the company, and I decided, “I’ll go until age 30.” When I turned 29, I made a promise with the company.
To work at the company without slacking or taking a day off for 365 days, and to put effort into training the people under me. I said, so, please let me quit after a year.
As promised, after I worked that time without a day off, I went independent at age 30.
What, that’s an incredible achievement!