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executive impact

Full plate for Indian entrepreneur

By Chris Betros

Most people are busy enough just doing one job. But Indian entrepreneur Anil Raj has three jobs – IT for a foreign bank, operator of three Indian restaurants and international kindergarten founder.

Japan Today catches up with Raj to see how he manages it all.

When did you first come to Japan?

I first came to Japan in 1998 to work for Fusion Systems. After a while there, I moved to banks where I have been doing finance IT ever since. I always had an ambition to start my own business, but never thought it would be a restaurant. My initial plan was to start an IT firm, but that would have been a conflict of interest with my job at the investment bank. With the restaurant business, there was no conflict of interest, so it was not an issue.

What are your restaurants called?

Two restaurants are called “Nirvanam” -- one in Kamiyacho and the other in Toranomon. A third one is called Ruchi. It's in Daimon.

Why did you decide to open a restaurant?

In 2005, there was a shortage of authentic South Indian food. Nobody served it here in Tokyo. I wanted to fill that vacuum, so I opened the first Nirvana in Kamiyacho in 2005. It was tough for the first two years because I had to work and also manage the restaurant. The second one opened at Toranomon in 2012.

How would you describe the image of Indian food in Japan?

A lot of Japanese are India-savvy these days and realize there is a difference between food from different regions in India. In general, when Japanese think of Indian cuisine, they tend to think of nan, tandoori chicken and butter chicken. It’s interesting because tandoori chicken is a restaurant food, not a home food. The perspective is slowly changing where people are looking at other dishes like dosa, biriyani, etc.

What’s the difference between South and North Indian cuisine?

A lot of coconuts are used in South Indian food but not in North Indian. For a sour taste, North Indian cuisine uses tomatoes whereas in South Indian dishes, they use tamarind in addition to tomatoes. In South Indian cuisine, you have plenty of rice-based items like dosa and idli, whereas in North Indian you have more wheat-based items like chapathi, nan, etc

How do you market the restaurants?

We didn’t do any advertising when we started. I preferred to start slowly and do a good job. Even now, whenever I open a new restaurant, I get my circle of friends and bring them in for a party. They are my support/feedback structure and they get the word out.

Where do you get your chefs?

I bring my chefs from India. If I hire them here, most are serving Japanized versions of Indian cuisine and that wouldn’t be authentic South Indian. We don’t change the menu to Japanize Indian food. That’s one difference between us and other Indian restaurants. We serve authentic Indian food.

What are your expansion plans?

I would like to have 6-7 restaurants by 2020, mainly in Tokyo and maybe Yokohama but not beyond that. It’s important to find the right location. We’re looking near train stations or near high-rise buildings because the lunchtime business is very important.

How do you manage your time?

I reach the bank by around 8:30 a.m. By 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m., I am done. Initially, I used to go to the restaurants every day but not now because I have the structure in place. Since I have lot on my plate these days, I rely on my key people to maintain the quality. I also randomly visit time-to-time to check on the quality.

Why don’t you devote all your time to the restaurant business?

Because I like being in the finance IT industry. I don’t want to lose touch with IT, which I would if I became a full-time restaurant operator.

Tell us about your third business.

I am diversifying into education. I have had the school business in mind for 3-4 years, but never actively pursued it. When my partner casually mentioned about his idea to start a school, I finally took the plunge. We are going to open an international kindergarten in Shiba-koen. It is called Star Kids International Preschool. We took possession of the building on Nov 29. Right now, we are hiring teachers. We will open the school in January or February. Once we have staff in place, we will advertise.

Do you have any advice for would-be entrepreneurs?

Anybody who wants to start a business should start small-time. If you wait to learn everything first and then start, you will never get started. After that, get people with the right attitude.

For more information, visit www.nirvanam.jp or email anilraj@rajgroupglobal.com

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Interesting. Too much Indian food is Indian food adapted for Japanese. Often the restaurants even use Japanese rice. In fact, "Indian" has in a way become a generic term to describe any curry restaurant with a resemblance to food from the Indian subcontinent. Most of the cooks actually seem to be from Nepal. I am not saying there is anything wrong with Nepalese food, but it should be described as such.

I remember talking to someone selling Indian beef curry in the street.

"Beef curry? You aren't Indian, are you? Where are you from?"

"I'm from Pakistan. Japanese don't know Pakistani food. I call it Indian so that they understand."

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@gaijintraveller Not all Indians abhor beef. There are excellent beef recipes from some parts of India, Kerala is one example.

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I used to go to Nirvanam frequently for their lunch buffet. Insanely good value although I suspect it didn't help my waistline. Really miss that place!

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I go to an Indian restaurant at least once every two weeks. There are 4 or 5 I have discovered in the Kitakyushu area. We need more. Please come here.

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Nirvanam is a breath of fresh air. Thanks, Anil!

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Many so called Indian restaurants in Japan are Japanized versions. They taste insane and awful. When I prepare authentic food and feed my Japanese friends, they say WOW!! I found few in tokyo @ Kasai station, where good food is served.

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Oh boy! I can't wait to see the look on a drunken salary mans face when he tries his first (and possibly his last) phaal Can some one translate ..put the toilet roll in the fridge, your going to need it tomorrow!!!

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@Kishore Mishra,

Which ones do you recommend in Kasai?

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Having one job is time consuming but three! wow, In the UK we have lots of Indian or curry houses, but they are such strong flavours, I wonder how the Japanese people will cope with strong chilly or such aromatic dishes.

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Proud to see an Indian featured on 'Japan Today'. Good Luck!

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Nice to see a person work hard in his new home, and bring his roots to his new home, a great way to expose Japan to a new culture and experience.

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I support to Mr.Anil

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Japanese recognize indians as IT guys and good in maths. Indian food is not considered healthy by japanese mainly because of the quality of ordinary curry restaurants. Nivarna is a quality one and hope this will help change the impression of indian food.

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"In general, when Japanese think of Indian cuisine, they tend to think of nan, tandoori chicken and butter chicken. "

That's hard to believe. I would imagine that for most Japanese people, curry would come to mind when they think of Indian cuisine.

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I actually wandered into this restaurant one day a number of years ago after a client meeting I had in Kamiyacho, and it was indeed quite good. One thing that catches me about the title though is that Mr. Raj is noted as being an entrepreneur, which I suppose anyone that starts up a business is indeed. But it also states that he works full-time at a bank as well? It would seem that ten years would be enough time for a restaurant to either "make it" on its own or not.

Seems that Mr. Raj has 3 restaurants now and is still working at a bank though. Perhaps I'm behind the times, but most companies that I've worked for had a very strict policy against outside employment or financial interests. Since he says that the lunch business is very important, and also states that he works at the bank from 8:30 to about 6:30 or 7pm, am I the only one that sees a conflict of interest? So, if one of the 3 restaurants has an issue or an emergency that his workers can't handle, which is the priority...his "day" job or the restaurants? I would think that a bank would demand his full attention, especially in something as crucial as IT, where the business is exposed when systems are down. I would also think that co-workers would feel demoralized if he was off dealing with phone calls from his other businesses while he was on the clock at the bank.

As a parent, I would also want someone starting up a school to be accessible to me at all times. If there was a problem with the school or a teacher that was not to my satisfaction, then I would want to speak to the operator directly, when I want to...not after 7pm when his day job is over. The care and education of children is a huge responsibility not to be taken lightly, and I didn't really read anything in this interview that gave the impression that he wanted to undertake it for the right reasons, other than a "business idea" and not the welfare of the children that would be under his charge.

I wish Mr. Raj well, but I think that perhaps he has too many irons in the fire. It's fine for him personally if he wants to work that much, but it seems unfair to all the other stakeholders in the businesses that he is currently undertaking or planning to undertake. I've found the old adage "you can't serve two masters" to be largely true throughout my own life.

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Great proud for me as a indian to see the success in japan soils so i repect the japenses to create such a success and enterpreunrial burning will be always in belly no doubt but it should not sacrifice the objective of studying IT so it should go together this what he did great things will start with small move that is proven.consumer are the success of any project we need buyers all other things we can arrange so the buyer focused enterpreuner create a successfull journey. Indian foods are become more popular after covid in various countries so japanese can start taking indian foods and now one more gate is opened today really great.Any business any one can start mere determination ,consistency also happy to see he is taken keen interst to help japan manufacture of cosmetic to get market in india so he become a patriot of japan wish him all success

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