Establishing a tempura eatery from a managerial perspective – a chef’s work uses skill and know-how to add value
It’s been 9 years since you branched out on your own but when did you start thinking of having your own restaurant?
During my 20s, I had the chance to work with some French chefs at a two-star restaurant in Denmark and during a meal after the event, they tried some of my own kaiseki cuisine. We ended up talking about work and earnings. These chefs were doing some high level work for their private advancement and clearly felt that it was natural to negotiate salaries. I knew about differences in Japanese and French attitudes towards work but this experience gave me my first inclination towards independence.
I started to really think of it in terms one year before I set out on my own.
I not only worked at Kagaman with kaiseki cuisine but had also explored other restaurants like sushi and oden. I was the manager of a large restaurant but had also been a manager of a tempura shop, and that shop had the feel of a tempura parlor.
That restaurant was for parties of four or more and by reservation only. I provided wait staff so of course, it was expensive. Just as the restaurant was experiencing a slump, I got inspiration when a customer commented, “It’s difficult to have more than four customers in here. Why not open a place where we can enjoy tempura in a more relaxed fashion?” Before that, I had thought about starting my own kaiseki cuisine restaurant but with tempura, there were not many others in the business and I decided on a tempura restaurant since I could gain the customer’s appreciation.
There was some talk of having investors but I decided against it since it is difficult to have things my way under an owner.
When creating my restaurant, a 10-seat space was within my reach so I decided to compete based on food and service to make a profit, which resulted in this restaurant.
What do you think about balancing your own cooking and preferences in creating a restaurant and good management?
If I simply had a recipe and were only to think of making a profit, it would be more lucrative to consider the type of ramen shop that anyone could run. But that is not appealing to me. I want to satisfy that call to be the chef that “only I can be” and I think that it is also important to be successful in terms of business. There are often stores that ignore profitability but then they are not able to stay in business. Isn’t that the kind of thing we hear about when people say, ”even with such Italian style, that restaurant went out of business.” These days, it’s the wine bars and such. But if there is no added value, then when the competitors increase I would also be out of luck under Osaka-style price wars, especially if some luxury restaurants brought extra skill or know-how. I think this is an important point.
Personal industry connections made during teen years, the time to spread his wings
Is there a particular teacher who influenced you?
There is a well-established restaurant I went to when I was young but of course, a young boy alone at fancy restaurant stood out so people would talk to me. A lot of restaurant workers took a liking to me. They listened to my struggles and offered advice. It was their support that actually gave me the aim so to actually leave Kagaman for Osaka and open my own restaurant. I often hear how overwhelming and stressful it can be before opening and but in my case, I wondered, “Is it ok for things to be this laid-back?” For example, I would get phone calls where people would say, “Has construction started? You should ask them to have the refrigerator raised to make your work easier” and people would teach me about setting up, or, they would introduce me to carpenters who would take a look at my place and say “don’t you think it would be better like this?” So, I did not have to do anything.
So, the people you connected with in your teens became your teachers. Also, you branched out at just the right time.
It really felt like the people around me sensed the timing. All of the people around me were top-notch so I couldn’t go wrong by listening to them.
When I started out on my own, I did not have any funds so people introduced me to contractors and lent me a hand or some wisdom. I was so well taken care of that I wondered, “Is it ok for me to receive so much?”
The most incredible thing was when a person who supported me as a chef said, “I do not give advice to a person who does not have the ability to make it independently. I do not support just anyone.” I had been accepted and it left an impression on me.