The reality of being unable to afford even a 500-yen fishing rod; restarting with his wife and juniors.
One of your goals is to own your restaurant.
After working at “Gion Sasaki” for five years, I started my own restaurant. I did not have much savings but Chef Sasaki helped me out a lot. I was able to get a loan from a bank so I was able to start my own restaurant.
I wanted to own a restaurant with counter space so I renovated a space that used to be a wine bar. I was 29 when I opened Nishibuchi Hanten.
I had the confidence that I would be able to do anything by myself at that time, when I started my restaurant.I thought I would not be afraid of anything as long as I had enthusiasm. However, the reality is different. I experienced then that I would not be able to do everything by myself.
Did you run into some kind of trouble?
To put it simply, I started my restaurant without having enough confidence. I opened in April but after seeing the results, I decided to close temporarily in August, just four months after I opened the restaurant.
The reason was because I could not stand serving food in which I was not confident. I realized that after I opened. When I was standing in front of customers at the counter, I felt so sorry for them and could not stand to watch their faces.
After that, I closed my restaurant for about seven months. Of course, I needed to pay the rent and clear off my debt. However, I did not feel like re-starting my restaurant and I thought about retiring from the food industry. I decided I would not tell my dreams to anyone.
I made my strong decision and spent my time without feeling positive about doing anything. My wife supported me emotionally at that time by being with me taking days off from work. I have always loved going fishing so I just went fishing every day. My wife did not say anything but just was with me all the time.
From that kind of situation, how did you restart your business?
One day, I was going to buy a fishing hook and my wife said to me, “We don`t have any money anymore.
” Her words turned in my heart as I realized she hadn’t said anything until that time. “I cannot afford to buy even a 500-yen fishing hook.” I thought about it and realized suddenly, I can’t continue to do this anymore.
I needed to decide whether I would continue my restaurant or retire as a chef. And also, I had another concern. That was my junior from the hotel, Mr. Oshige, with whom I used to work and was then working with me at Nishibuchi Hanten.
When I was going to open my restaurant, I asked him if he would quit the hotel and work together with me. However, it ended up in the air. I was going to close my restaurant at that time so I asked him to come to my house so I could explain.
However, when I was talking with him, the conversation always led to cooking, such as, “I wanted to make this kind of dish at my restaurant” or, “It would be fun if I did this way…” and so on. During the conversation with him, I realized that I really loved cooking.
When I thought about cooking, it made me feel so excited from the bottom of my heart. I was quite surprised to realize that. And then, he said to me that he would quit the hotel so we could re-open the restaurant together. Moreover, my wife said she would help me out, too, so I finally made the decision to restart.
Until then, I really felt anxious and did not have confidence. But when I felt I had my peers, my anxiety started to disappear. When I started my restaurant, I overestimated myself and thought I would be able to do anything, but once I started, my anxiety grew bigger and bigger.
In short, my dream was to open my restaurant and I did not think about what I would do after that, such as what kind of cuisine I would serve to customers and what direction I would lead my restaurant toward. I realized that my job as a restaurant owner was to make the path for the restaurant.
When I look back now, Chef Sasaki was that kind of restaurant owner. Even though we faced difficulties, we were able to overcome them with everybody in the team because he showed us the path and a goal to aim for.
My dream was to open that restaurant and I faced a wall at the beginning. Once I was able to open my restaurant, my dream and goal vanished and the pressure made me run away from the reality that I needed to face all of that alone.
Did everything go well with the restart, with the support of your wife and friend?
When I decided to try again, I grabbed 100,000 yen, which was the only money I had at the time, and went to the market to buy some fish. I was already defiant that I would quit if I failed. Then, I started contacting our customers who had visited my restaurant before.
Even though I only opened my restaurant for four months, about a hundred customers made reservations there, a place that had been closed for seven months. Actually, some customers were worried about my restaurant while it was closed.
I really appreciated their kindness. I had faced so many difficulties after that, but this experience made me think positive and move forward and think that everything should be all right if I keep my eyes looking forward. While my restaurant was closed, I only stared at the floor. I really appreciate my wife supporting me and Mr. Oshige, too, who gave me courage.
The path that Renewed Nishibuchi Hanten will go
What do you think changed most dramatically after you restarted?
My food and skills did not change. They are cooked by the same person so the taste is not dramatically different. However, my feeling is very different.
Before, I was so anxious about serving food I was not confident in, and could not even look at the customers’ faces. However, I now only think about making those people at the counter happy. I am working hard to use so many different ways to make them happy and think they would like to come back again.
I only have a restaurant in Kyoto so it is maybe just my personal opinion, but Kyoto is where customers make shops or restaurants grow. There are many businesspeople in Kyoto. Therefore, there are many customers who know the difficulty of businesses and warmly watch over the growth of young business owners.
Our customers willingly see our negative parts or where we have not been able to make it better. I work with my wife so some customers are concerned about her, too, saying “You need to take care of your wife and not let her work too hard.” They are even concerned about her health.
As a result, your restaurant won the Gold Award for the website Taberogu in 2017, and it’s considered very hard to get reservations there.
Thanks to them, there are so many customers coming from different places. It is very important to have a lot of customers from different places when running a restaurant. For both frequent customers and first-time customers, I really want them to feel the great strength of Nishibuchi Hanten whenever they come.
I would like to make my restaurant a bit bigger. I originally estimated the kitchen would be used by only me so it is quite small. The kitchen is the engine of the restaurant so I want to make the kitchen better to be able to serve great dishes. A dream that the team makes come true is definitely greater than a dream I make come true.
That sounds great – making dreams in a team! Please tell me more about your dream.
Well, there are so many things I want to try. At the moment, we only have a course menu but I would like to try an a la carte menu. However, my first goal is to make my restaurant a bit bigger, as I mentioned earlier.
In the future, I would like to go to my own restaurant with my family.In fact, I want to make my restaurant big enough to ask other people to run it. I would like Mr. Oshige, who is working with me right now, to have his own restaurant in the future, too; so I would like to cultivate more people to rely on in the future. Of course, there are still so many things I need to do before that!
Please give us a message to young people who would like to work in the food industry.
I am not the right person to give them a message but I really would like young people to put forth as much effort as possible. It is a difficult time in food industry because we do not have enough young people.
Work is hard and there are not many days off, so young people may not like the food industry very much. I hear that many people choose to work in a hotel, where pay and benefits are good, but I hope they also have high hopes.
If you choose to work at an organization for a certain amount of pay or days off, it may fall into decline. You need to have high motivation and will. In any kind of industry, you can`t grow if your organization is not where enthusiastic people are gathered.
Once you decide your path, I hope you will pursue it and put effort into it until you achieve your goal. Mr. Sasaki from Gion Sasaki was saying in a lecture at a technical collage that “work is like a bean-jam bun.” He means that the first bite does not take you to the most delicious part of the bread but if you wait, you will eventually reach the most delicious part. The food industry is the same.
If you overcome the rough times, you may be able to make your dream come true and become what you always wanted to be. Therefore, my mission is to do the impressive work that young people dream about.
I will continue to put much effort into making the next generation want to work at my restaurant!
(Interviewer: Osamu Saito Text: Yohei Ueda Photography: Ryuji Oka)