Japan Today chats with Korean-American Kyu Chah, managing partner of Suji's Restaurant/Suji's Cuisine in Tokyo about the challenges of running a restaurant.
What brought you to Japan?
A thoughtful idea of a future in the food business and a childlike curiosity of life in Japan.
How was opening a restaurant in Japan?
The daunting thought of launching a restaurant coupled with an empty vocabulary in a foreign land definitely nibbled away at my initial confidence. The right local partners (i.e. real estate company/broker) can be the difference between a surreal and nightmarish experience. We were fortunate. By day, I was a novice construction site supervisor. By night, a wide-eyed child marveling at Tokyo up close.
Tell us about the Suji’s restaurants and hospitality businesses.
After a tumultuous five years since our global financial wizards went mental, we have trimmed our restaurant operations down to a flagship store and an embassy cafeteria in both Seoul and Tokyo. The ideal of genuine American cuisine still thrives as well as our penchant for familial customer service. However, our foray into the retail/wholesale food business (i.e. Costco) via Suji`s Cuisine has evolved into a challenging and rewarding element of our overall business. From packaged deli meats, condiments and ridiculous quantities of chicken meat, this segment of our operations is a brilliant torch guiding our future.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
s disheartening to be witness to the demise of so many establishments in recent years. You can’t stand still for a moment for fear of finding yourself with your pants around your ankles and a pink slip from life. We strive to be innovative yet loyal to our roots. To stay alive, you have to incorporate every ounce of financial sense youve accumulated and then ask for more help. You have to keep your loyal customers happily satiated and tease new customers with food porn.
What is the best part of doing what you do?
Running your own business can be a beautifully, euphoric endeavor until you run, nose first, into the glass wall wincing in financial pain and personal embarrassment (aka failure). But personally, I enjoy the uncertainty (sadist, I know). However, I find the relationships I have forged with customers turned friends, watching families grow before your eyes and the pure satisfaction that runs through your veins after a great day really fuel my happiness tank.
The defining moment of your career so far?
m a career nomad by trade. This is my longest running gig to date and I dont see myself straying from this path any time soon. So that, in of itself, is a testament that I made the right choice to dive head first into this insane world of culinary service.
What is your favorite food/restaurant in Japan?
Sushi, its sister sashimi and all of their scrumptious relatives. Sushi anywhere else seems like prison food. Sushi Zanmai in Roppongi (the first place I dined at when arriving in Tokyo). It has become my personal refuge, my “Cheers.”
What do you like to do on your time off?
Time off is more precious than gold in this business. Therein lies the passion factor to endure endless hours of work. Therefore, a decompressing package of quality TV/movie fodder, barrels of wine and take-out munchies seems like a weekend in Jamaica for me.
What are your future plans for Suji’s?
Stay alive. Nurture this baby to its full potential. Watch a construction crew build a new spot in another country. Grow old with my customers.© Japan Today