Overlapping paths that led to opening 2 restaurants in Kyoto
Did you go out and open up your own place right after that?
At 30 I knew that I wanted to open my own place, but that didn’t become a reality until I was 32.
I was working as a head chef at a restaurant in Gion and out of the blue I came across some perfect real estate. I knew right then and there that it was exactly what I had in mind. I saw my chance to go independent, but I wanted to ensure that the kitchen would remain stable and that I wouldn’t cause any trouble for the restaurant if I left. I spoke frankly to those who were next in line to inherit the restaurant and talked about how whether I should pass up the opportunity to start something on my own. I didn’t want to go if leaving meant that everyone had to clean up the mess after I was gone. After that conversation I was able to get their support to go independent, and I opened up 3 months later.
So everything seems to have gone pretty smoothly?
I had already gone out and purchased pots, tableware, and cooking utensils. These were things that I used to put on dinner parties. But, I didn’t have the money ready to open up a restaurant. I wanted to take out a loan for 10 million yen to get the restaurant started, but I needed to have 1/3 of that amount to get it. I asked my parents about it and they let me borrow 3 million yen.
However, this was also the same time that my parents were closing their own restaurant, so there was no one who could act as a guarantor. While I was in the middle of this predicament, I decided to try and call up the top manager of a restaurant that I used to work at. This was the restaurant I was at while I was temporarily home in Kanagawa after my first attempt in Kyoto.
It had been such a long time since we had talked, but the manager picked up and said, “What’s wrong? You’re opening up a restaurant? Yeah, you’re certainly gonna need a guarantor right now.” That was the extent of our conversation (laughs). I’m truly grateful for that. From there I was able to get the help that I needed, and then in 2007 I was able to make it all happen by opening up “Jiki Miyazawa.”
I was so content about opening up my own restaurant that I could have died happy at that point. It was like a dream come true to open a place in Kyoto, a city that had been on my mind for so long. Not to mention that I was only 32 at the time.
It’s going on 10 years since then and that sense of happiness still carries on with me.
What was it like when you first opened up?
I knew the bare essentials of a restaurant but I didn’t know the right answers for how to move things forward from there. At the time there weren’t very many restaurant in the Shijo-Karasuma area, so I figured that with a good location like that things should work out some way or another if I put my mind to it.
When I was picking out a location I wanted the type of spot that people would go out of their way for. So, I looked for a location that was a little ways off and not in Gion. I wanted it this way so customers would come in looking to focus solely on the food in front of them.
After I had been open for about a month a customer came in and wrote about their experience on their blog. I didn’t know it at the time, but they turned out to be a famous blogger. The phone started to ring off the hook with incoming reservations. This only went on for a little while, but it led to the restaurant getting more regulars, and the overall amount of customers coming in went up. I’m very thankful for that.
Looks like things kicked off nicely. Did you encounter any problems when you first opened up your own place?
I actually wasn’t very fond of talking to customers across the counter. I wanted to get table seating if I could and separate it from the kitchen. That would have meant putting up a considerable budget to install a duct. So, I had to forget about that and settle for counter seating.
Thankfully my wife was able to help me out with that side of things.
What was the impetus behind opening up a 2nd location?
This also was just a bit of happenstance. A proprietress from a Japanese-style inn was in one day and invited me to come and stay at her inn. I was grateful for the invitation and stopped by the very next day. When I got there I found out that the kitchen there wasn’t being used for some reason or another. At the time my restaurant was 10 tsubo in size (1 tsubo equals approx. 3.31 square meters) and the kitchen was quite cramped. Because of that I was already looking for another kitchen that was close by, so I asked if I could rent their kitchen space. They graciously accepted my request and I started using the kitchen there as a simple prep station.
After that I asked what guests staying at the inn ate for breakfast in the morning and they told me that they served bento meals that were put together the day before. I thought that an amazing inn like that shouldn’t have to stoop to that level and I offered to make breakfast for them. And so I started making food at the inn after that.
I became really friendly with the inn, but in time they had to close their doors, and with that my agreement with them came to an end as well. The kitchen staff at the inn were in need of a new place to work so I figured why not just open up another restaurant. This is how I got started on opening “Godan Miyazawa.”
How does this restaurant differ from Jiki Miyawa?
Just like with Jiki Miyazawa I instantly found a location that I loved after browsing properties on the internet. At first I was thinking about doing a place that served set meals, but once I started going in that direction I ran into too many obstacles about halfway in. I opted for an all-wood build and stuff like that, which was out of the question budget-wise when I was doing my first restaurant. By the time it was ready I was more than eager to start working there (laughs).
It takes more than one person to make things happen
So with that did you put someone in charge over at Jiki Miyazawa?
At the time I had a talented chef that was 29 years old and served as my number 2. Originally he came into my restaurant twice to eat, and based on that he wanted to show me his CV.
Back when I was younger like he was I had the painful experience of being turned away, so I was adamant about hiring him when he came to me like that. I could see that he was more determined than anyone else.
Anyway, he was the one I asked to step up as head chef at Jiki Miyazawa. I was also exactly 29 years old when I took on the role as head chef at a restaurant in Gion, so I thought it would be great for him to experience something like that as well.
From a management perspective is it difficult to have two restaurants?
I don’t really know much about that. Things aren’t supposed to go exactly the way you want with people right from the get-go, so I don’t think of myself as a superior with everyone else below me. There’s no way I can just do everything on my own when it comes to running a restaurant. So, I want all of us to learn and grow together. I talk everything out and keep conflict at a minimum.
What types of conversations do you have with the chefs working with you?
These days I just say whatever I’m feeling. Everyone else is also entitled to express their own feelings as well. We talk back and forth and it becomes an even exchange where I get feedback too.
I think the best situation you can have is something where people can be themselves no matter what their position at the workplace is. It’s important for me that we all have the same sense of ownership and mutual understanding, rather than it be about pressing your will down on people.
What types of endeavors are you looking to take on now?
I don’t have anything specific that I’m planning. I’m happy to just keep serving to the best of my ability while I indulge myself by adding more experience to my repertoire. I think that if any goals or dreams come up then it’s probably fate telling me that I should pursue them. But, for now I’m just going to focus on what’s in front of me and find ways to reach customers with everything that I want to express.
Other than that, I’ve also been fortunate to have so many people step in and help me along the way throughout my career, so I’d very much like to return that favor by offering that same kind of help to future generations.
(Interviewer: Takashi Ichihara, Text: Ayako Shiraishi, Photography: Takashi Oka)