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 email@example.com© Japan Today