You can find the secret to making your life valuable in remote areas.

Villa Aida
Kanji Kobayashi

Villa Aida Kanji Kobayashi

Three years since the restaurant has been opened. Struggling with how to attract customers. There was a time when there was only one reservation a week.

So you innovated and changed completely. You stopped importing ingredients and changed the purchasing then created a new menu.

Mr. Kobayashi :
I tried again and again at that time. I tried to create a new menu with high originality using the local ingredients. I thought about interesting ideas and tips for the new menu to attract customers and make them feel like coming to the restaurant even from far away. I knew it wouldn’t be enough to simply use the local radishes or cabbages.
I started growing vegetables by myself at that time. I visited many farmers and grew from the seeds of those which I couldn’t find any other way to get. There were many days when no customers visited my restaurant so I had a lot of time to take care of my field.

Although everybody knows the name “Villa Aida,” there were tough days in the past.

Mr. Kobayashi :
On weekdays, there were no reservations. There was a Saturday where there was only one reservation. This pair of customers came often and said to me, “There are people who like your dishes, so please continue your work.” However, when they stopped coming, I thought I would need to rethink whether I would continue or not…
I was 30 years old at that time so I thought that was the time to restart everything. However, I had debt so couldn’t stop. There was only one option; I would need to continue forward step by step even though I was facing a lot of problems. That’s why I did what I could do.

You need a lot of time and effort to completely change your cooking. Did you put effort into bringing in more customers?

Mr. Kobayashi :
Of course. I thought about a lot of ways to bring in customers. I tried a 1,000-yen lunch course and 3,500-yen dinner course. However, there were customers who only wanted to save money. Some mothers with kids came at 11:30 and left around 3 because their reason for coming to the restaurant was to talk. It was not what I wanted my restaurant to be. I don’t mean I wanted to deny those customers but I thought I would want to attract customers who find it worthwhile to try the ingredients and tastes of our original food.
So after three to four years, I was able to create our original foods which we made using the ingredients we grew in our field. It was about the sixth or sevents year of my restaurant.

So you struggled for a long time after the number of the customers decreased.

Mr. Kobayashi :
It was the hardest time of my life. It wasn’t an admirable period of struggling; I was just not able to pay for the ingredients or even the salary for our staff.
My parents and the people who helped me with money worried about me and gave me advice. They told me to lower the prices and increase the quality of each dish. They told me what to do about the business so I often fought with them. There was a time where I felt very alone.

When did you feel the changes start?

Mr. Kobayashi :
I felt a bit that there was a big wave coming when my chef friend from Osaka came to my restaurant. That was probably when I felt like my efforts were paying off…
When he dropped by to see a nearby farmer, he came by and said my cooking had changed. When some chefs heard about it, they became interested in my food. They started coming to my restaurant to try my cooking. For example, I cooked a small turnip with olive oil and served it as-is. Based on regional Italian cuisine, I created original dishes using local ingredients. It was probably quite unique. Since then I have appeared in many magazines and other media and many customers from Hyogo, Osaka, and Kyoto started visiting my restaurant.

Villa Aida entrance

You were able to change because you realized an important thing when you were struggling. Did the type of customer change, too?

Mr. Kobayashi :
Yes, it did. When I changed the ingredients, I changed the target customers to those who live outside the prefecture, not the locals. This is because I thought the local people were used to eating these fresh and tasty local ingredients so they wouldn’t care much about it.
Moveover, they may think, “Why do people pay so much money for them?” However, people outside the prefecture would find it worth paying for such fresh tomatoes or radishes that are grown in a quality field.

It is a huge decision not to aim to attract local customers.

Mr. Kobayashi :
The number of local people is very limited, but if I decide to attract people outside the immediate area, I can think about what kind of menu would attract these people, and the price per customer. If I was going to try something new, I wanted to do what I liked. If I couldn’t succeed, then I would quit. I think I was able to become more practical and face the challenges willingly.
However, many customers from different prefectures visited my restaurant after I made the various changes. My restaurant often was featured in magazines and as a result, locals also came back as they realized we were becoming popular. It was a good miscalculation!

Villa Aida interior

Confiture made from fresh fruits

My motto is to use all parts of the ingredients, to show respect for the blessings of nature.

Please tell us about what you keep in mind when you teach your staff.

Mr. Kobayashi :
There are three staff responsible for the kitchen. Eighty percent of the ingredients are grown in our field. We get the rest from other farms or from friends.
What I cherish is that we don’t throw away any part of these ingredients. We put back the damaged vegetables in the field and grow them again. We use everything we can.
We use the “leftover” parts of these ingredients to make pickles or confiture or give away to my chef friends. You may not be able to learn high cooking skills in my restaurant but you should be able to gain the mindset of using every part of the ingredients, appreciating the environment, developing creative ideas and ways to approach life, and acquiring a new way of living on this planet.

Is there anything you would like to try next?

Mr. Kobayashi :
I would like to own a restaurant in an area where you can’t find anything that reminds you of a city, such as where there is more nature than Koide City. Work in the field during the day and start preparations in the evening… During harvest time, we will close the restaurant and focus on the field. We work in this kind of cycle. People are interested in knowing how I can take care of both my restaurant business and my farming. Some other chefs says they envy the fact that I can handle both. In this busy world, there are many people who would like to take up a slow lifestyle to cherish the blessings of nature. Strangely, there are not many people who take action to actually lead that kind of life.

People may think it is difficult to have more customers in such remote area and still make a profit.

Mr. Kobayashi :
But I think their point of view is from a sales perspective. When you think about life, you don’t need any cost of living in this kind of food self-sufficiency. Of course, you need an initial investment. If you grow vegetables and give them to your neighbors, you can get something back from them. It is enough to live life.

I guess I may think more about how I can make a profit than work hard for my life.

Mr. Kobayashi :
Of course you can’t live without earning. However, you can follow the law of nature and use only what you need to live. Taking care of the field is my motivation for life. It is such a fun time to do DIY things and repairs and build a small cottage. I would like to make my restaurant a place where people can cherish normal days and time spent with their family. I would like my restaurant to create and provide hints for spending a spiritually affluent life.

(Interviewer: Takashi Ichihara, Content: Tomoko Tanaka, Photography: Takashi Oka)

Villa Aida nameplate

Villa Aida appearance

Villa Aida

Inquiry
+81-736-63-2227

Access
71-5 Kawaziri, Iwade-shi, Wakayama 〒649-6231

About 10 minutes from JR Iwade Station by car

Hours
11:30-14:00 (last entry at 13:30)

18:00-21:00 (last entry at 20:30)

Closed
Closed on Mondays (if Monday is a public holiday, the following day is closed.) ※Closed on one Tuesday each month