Business & Economy Why authentic Japanese cuisine and Singapore don’t easily mix: the story of...

Why authentic Japanese cuisine and Singapore don’t easily mix: the story of Misato

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Singapore – Why continue a food and beverage (F&B) business when you have been incurring losses? Is passion enough to compensate for the venture? Owner and chef Tony Young explains why he does not plan on quitting on Misato, even amidst struggles and difficulties.

Misato, an authentic Japanese casual dining restaurant located at The Centrepoint first floor is considered to be a hidden gem.

Started in January 2015, chef Young thought it would be easy to set up a Japanese restaurant in Singapore. In an interview with Sethlui, the owner explained that having a background in Japanese cuisine and having Japanese friends is not enough for this particular type of business to succeed in Singapore’s competitive F&B industry.

“In Singapore, even there are a lot of Japanese owners that closed down their restaurants,” mentioned Young.

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During the interview, Misato’s owner gave a glimpse of his journey hence. He recalled how he was a fashion designer-turned-chef, had lived in Tokyo and studied under Japanese chefs, and conducted his own reserach, and development for the creation of Singapore’s authentic Japanese cuisine.

“Our food is all very authentic because it’s 100% imported from Japan,” noted Young.

He added that even the restaurant’s cooking oil, togarashi (chili powder), sea salt, and the like were all sourced from Japan. The only ingredients not supplied from Japan are the fresh chicken and the tiger prawns, said the owner.

“Even the tableware is 110% from Japan,” added Young.

The tableware alone costs a whopping S$400,000 which is the cost of a flat in Singapore.

With Young’s attention to detail and perseverance for authenticity, it is no wonder that operating costs skyrocketed.

“Initially, I thought I could be very successful like those entrepreneurs like Din Tai Fung or whatever. Having said that, I thought it was easy. But, when you set up it’s going through a lot of very difficult times,” he explains.

Chef Young mentioned how he went through depression for many years, struggled with staff issues because Singaporeans did not want to work with Misato and has incurred losses of S$2.2 million to date.

However, Young plans to keep going: “Because, if I think my food standard is under par, I can probably just wind up.

“But, the funny thing is, I find that we have an edge over some of the restaurants struggling and losing money. So, I hope that the people will come and support us and try our food.”

The difficulties of Japanese cuisine

As chef Young mentioned, he initially thought starting a Japanese restaurant would be easy but was faced with the harsh reality that this particular cuisine has its own set of business implications.

First is the difficulty of balancing authenticity with the price. In order for a Japanese restaurant to be called authentic, a bulk of its ingredients must be sourced from Japan and should have a Japanese chef or one that has practiced the art of Japanese cuisine extensively (preferably in Japan).

Both of these requirements come at a cost which usually forces the restaurant owners to rack up the price of their menu. This approach has been accepted by the general public which is how authentic Japanese restaurants acquired their reputation for being pricey.

Another implication of being an authentic Japanese restaurant is its lack of fame. Japanese chefs, those that you can find in the street corners of Tokyo who have been operating their quaint establishments for almost a generation, do not seek fame or fortune. The truly authentic remain hidden gems.

However, for a restaurant business running on high operating expenses to succeed, it must compensate with customer volume.

The industry itself is another obstacle for a Japanese restaurant, or any restaurant for that matter, to overcome.

In Singapore, as chef Young admitted, it is difficult to hire staff to work for his restaurant. CNA recently reported on the country’s struggles in the F&B industry in relation to manpower, and noted how business owners end up covering for the lack of staff by working longer hours.

In the Philippines, the struggle lies in making authenticity and affordability meet without the business closing shop after a few years.

It is at these moments when passion must coincide with a business approach for an authentic Japanese restaurant to succeed, and survive.

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