Thursday, August 12, 2010

HM Sanbiki So Far11/08/10

The Sanbiki story so far…

Masato and I left the big, smelly sweaty cities of Asia in 2001. We had decided to relocate to Kamloops, a city I had spent some time in as a child. The adventure was to involve us establishing a Japanese restaurant to provide the financial support for the latest chapter in our lives.

Masato spent a year apprenticing at a friend’s restaurant in Tokyo. Many years spent in “the service industry” back in Toronto had made it possible for me to support myself and get an education. Now we would be restaurant owners. But we were ready for it, right? We expected it would take a while to establish ourselves but we were looking forward to a relatively stable, normal lifestyle within a few years.

Ha! Seven years on, “stable” is the last word that comes to mind; I would hesitate to use it these days even with reference to my own mental state. “Normal”? I wouldn’t know normal if it jumped me in an alley and bit me on the nose….But.. the journey thus far certainly hasn’t been boring, and we’ve learned a lot (and keep learning and learning…)

We have met many great people; almost everyone we know in the area started out as our customer and became our friend. We estimate perhaps 80% of our guests are repeat customers. When things are good in Sanbiki-World, it’s not like work at all. Its like a big happy luncheon/dinner party in my big, beautiful dining room surrounded by friends that are actually paying for their meals!

Then (of course) there are the near-meltdown shifts when everyone shows up at once and absolutely nothing is ready. Time slows down. Sometimes it may even go backwards. That’s when it feels like the Sanbiki Wagon is careening out-of-control, down a mountainside towards a cliff..and there’s nothing I can do. I am not quite ready to talk about those days yet…

Never mind, we have made it this far because of the support of our customers. Customers pay the rent and customers write the paychecks. There is no money tree growing in our backyard (sadly) But if anyone knows where I can pick one up I will pay handsomely for directions…We continue to listen to our customers suggestions and think of ways to improve. Sanbiki is very much still a work in progress.

We have put together a great team of staff at the restaurant. They work hard to deliver the food and service Sanbiki’s guests expect and deserve. Our servers and cooks come from Japan, Korea, and (of course!) right here in Kamloops. They are a diverse and talented group of young people and we couldn’t do it without them. You can’t build anything by yourself. And why would you want to? We believe this team approach has been instrumental in getting us to where we are now.

And where are we? Excellent question…In terms of our physical location, we relocated the restaurant from 476 Victoria Street to the corner of Lansdowne and 5th Avenue in April 2008. Where are we as a business? Not quite as easy a question to answer. Times are tough right now for everyone. Except Dollarama. And Peters Pasta. They are ALWAYS busy. Lucky b*st*rds.

But opportunities do exist. Change is the only real constant; and adapt, improve and deliver is perhaps the only survival strategy. I don’t pretend to have answers, I just hope we are asking some semi-intelligent questions. It’s a good place to start. What do people want these days? People are still spending money but their spending habits may be changing. How? And why?

I think people are looking for more value for the dollars they spend. And not just monetary value. Everyone loves a good deal but maybe people also want to feel good about how and where they spend their hard earned cash. Increasingly at Sanbiki, our guests want to know how and where their food was grown or harvested. People with restricted diets want to know that we will try a little harder to provide delicious and varied dishes for vegetarians, celiacs and others. Not just another vegetable stir fry or a limp, dressing-less salad.

Families with small children deserve to be welcomed in restaurants like everyone else. At Sanbiki, we now provide a separate washroom with a baby-changing table. As well, activity boxes, books and other distractions are always on hand for the kids.

Everytime a customer enters Sanbiki, our goal is to greet them, seat them and by the end of their meal have learned one detail that will help us serve them better the next time they come. Did they ask for a fork? Do they like extra wasabi with their sashimi? Does the idea of eating the head of a raw BC Spot Prawn turn them off? Or on? I admit it gets me a little excited, in an oyster kind of way….

I guess that’s where we are now. Excited about the future, but a little apprehensive. Cautious perhaps. We have a beautiful new restaurant (thanks to everyone at Daizen, Procad and the many others who helped us make the move) Mori Mori Grocery in now at the same location and our Grab and Go sushi packs are starting to catch on with the downtown crowd.

But how can we add value to the Sanbiki/Mori Mori customers’ experience? (Preferably without spending more money!) How can we improve customer service, create a better atmosphere and build better long term relationships with our guests? There are many people out there who are unfamiliar with Japanese food and culture but curious. How to reach out to them, how can we be more accessible but retain our authenticity, our ideas and our vision?
Some of the things weighing on the collective Sanbiki conscious as of late…keep checking back for more reflections and ramblings when you get time!

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