Work hard on the task in front of you and change insecurity into confidence
Mr. Kikuchi opened “Kikuchi” when he was 39. He always thought about “having a restaurant named after himself someday”, but it was never clear to him. He began preparation for opening Kikuchi after leaving the last restaurant.
When did you get the confidence to start your own restaurant?
I still don’t have confidence (laughs). I got into the last restaurant through a manager at a pottery store I knew, not Kamiya-san. But my Seniors and juniors quit one after the other. For some time, I couldn’t quit. But then, things started to settle down. So I went to the person who introduced me to the store and said, “I’m thinking about quitting”. He replied, “Maybe it is time you think about going solo”. “Well, my seniors are starting to open their own restaurants nowadays, maybe it is time”.
This building, this is your parent’s building right? Did you decide to open up here from the start?
Actually, no. I wanted to open my store in Nishiazabu, the place where I was born and raised. But when I began preparing to open shop, this place was being rented as an office. It wasn’t even a choice at the time. Plus it’s a residential area and not many people pass by…
But due to funds and other factors, I couldn’t find the right real estate. I was looking for places while helping out at my senior’s restaurant. Then my parents told me this place was opening up. It was just the right size, so I thought, “this might work”. Needless to say I pay the rent, but in case of an emergency, my parents will be able to help me out. So I decided to ask them to help me out. After deciding on the location, things moved pretty quickly and before I knew it, it was opening day.
It must be hard to get customers here. Did you have trouble gathering customers?
Fortunately, some magazines picked me up after opening. Then a few customers started coming. I worked hard because I didn’t want to let the magazine down. Then, the word spread and more customers started coming.
1 year after opening (2008), you got the first Michelin star. Then in 2010, you got 2 stars. Today, Kikuchi is always on the Michelin list. Did this have any impact on the number of customers?
I run this place by myself, so I’m really busy. I had no time to think about the effects of Michelin to be honest (laughs). But now that I look back on it, the year I got my first star and the year I got my second star, it was pretty busy. In this industry, people do not come just because you get on Michelin. But without it, people wouldn’t have come to a small restaurant like this, so I am very grateful.
When did you stop worrying about the future of the restaurant?
Well, I’m always worried. Even today. Honestly, there are days with no reservations. I am on the edge as we speak. I don’t think I’ll ever stop worrying. But to change insecurity into confidence, all I can do is work hard on the task in front of me. If I gain too much confidence, I will get stuck up, but if I’m too worried, that won’t help either. I think the balance of insecurity and confidence is important.
You cannot run a restaurant without establishing trust with your distributor
Mr. Kikuchi takes time to prepare the dishes and during business hours he works without any rest. He says, “As soon as the customer leaves, I feel like crumbling down to the floor”. The restaurant only takes 3 groups per night. Since he does not compromise when it comes to ingredients, the cost rate is very high, sometimes reaching 40%. “I’m somehow able to keep going because I have no employees. But only recently did I become able to pay the rent on time. I don’t think I will become rich” said Mr. Kikuchi casually.
What! Cost rate is 40%!? Isn’t that too expensive?
Yeah (laughs). Of course, it’s not always like this. But when the farmer or fishermen tells me, “I got something really good, what do you think?”, I usually say yes.
The distributors always help me by finding great ingredients, even when my request is difficult. So even if the lot is a bit large for my store, I usually take it. So the cost rate goes up naturally. If I know I can’t use it all, I ask them, “If there are others who want this, can you make the adjustment?”
So it’s a give-and-take.
I make difficult requests and they work hard to find them. I can’t say “I only want this much”. They always help me out, and I’m responsible for the requests I made. I cannot cook great tasting food or run the store without trust from the distributors. To establish trust, the basic idea is “don’t just think about yourself”. Sometimes it sets me back a few, but in the long run, I think the trust relationship is what keeps the store going.