Friday, August 27, 2010

Bad Sign

In Japan, there seems to be a God for just about everything imaginable. Ever eaten Inari sushi? Those delicious little "brown bags" of sweet and savoury fried tofu stuffed with sushi rice? They are named for the fox God, apparently a big fan of fried tofu.

According to, Akuma is currently at the top of the top ten list of Gods and Demons (they can be both). Usually appearing with fire in his eyes and hair aflame, it is recommended that you avoid contact. If you do see him, pretend that you don't.

Amaterasu is perhaps less intimidating. But just as interesting. Born from her father's eye as a tear, she is the Goddess of the Sun. The Japanese Royal Family are her direct descendents. But her brother is the storm God. Family get togethers must be quite the adventure in this Holy Household.

So somewhere out there, there MUST be a Sign God. And we at Sanbiki need to find this God, and do whatever it takes to appease him (or her). If its sushi we'll make it. Incense, we'll burn it. Human sacrifices...well, lets hope the sushi and incense will do it.

You see we have had unnaturally bad luck when it comes to having restaurant signage approved.

At our old location at 476 Victoria, we had a sign made to replace the worn particle board that was in the rooftop sign on the building. We thought the powers that be would be happy to see us investing in our business and improving the appearance of the building (even though we did not own it) We applied for the sign permit to get our spiffy new sign up and out on display.

We were turned down. "Illegal Roof Top Sign" we were told. Our design did not fit in with the "architectural styling of the building". The building used to be a drive-thru gas station. "Architectural styling"? What? Earls on 5th (the previous tenants) had a sign. The new tenants have a sign. We never could get a Sanbiki sign approved. Go figure?

At our new location, our signs got preapproval at the drawing stage. Now that we have the completed contruction (and are delighted with Chase-based Dai-zen Joinery's work!)We have waited to see the finished product and want to make the signs even better than the orginal. And yes, bigger.

We want to improve on the original idea and design. Change is not necessarily bad. Change is possibly the only constant. Because our new proposed sign is different from the old proposed sign hopefully does not mean it will be refused solely on the basis that it is different.

We will find out. The City has told us to talk to City Council. So we are taking it to City Council to see if we can come to a compromise. Of course it is in everyone's interest to have as many successful businesses downtown (and everywhere in the city) as possible. And good signage is critical to any business. It is heartbreaking to take phone calls from frustrated customers who are driving around unable to find us.

So Masato is looking into setting up a meeting to get the whole sign thing figured out. But if you know of a God, Demon, Spirit or other other-worldly entity who can be bought off, you know where to find us. At the corner of Lansdowne and 5th Avenue. The lovely new restaurant with no signs... week at Sanbiki and Mori Mori. Today (Friday) lunch not too bad. Lots of regulars which is always great. Take out at Mori Mori getting popular but it will take time to spread the word.

New specials menu at dinner! Our kitchen team has put together some great new dishes, all under $10. Crispy fried noodles with seafood and our special sauce; "grilled cheese" rice balls (weird but wonderful!) and a light and lovely crab salad. Some like it hot! Try our new spicy pork with Kim Chi. Eat, sweat, love, eat more, sweat....well, you get the picture.

Thats all for this post, Heather signing off for the night. Hope to see you all soon!

Friday, August 20, 2010

HM Burn baby burn

Scary stuff out here in the interior. Forest fires raging everywhere and it makes for a very smoky Kamloops. Even the dogs don't want to go outside and customers seem to be on the same page. Not completely deserted for lunch today, but not great either. Lots of regulars; thanks to Bryce and Michelle, Rob (and all the MJB boys and girls) Larry and others who helped make the afternoon enjoyable.

New dinner combo menu is a hit. Customers can choose their own sushi combos with dozens of possible combinations. Starting at $13 (which includes 2 rolls, miso soup, green salad and tea) they make for a healthy and reasonably priced meal. Doing some advertising now too which will hopefully get the word out.

Things difficult right now for everyone. Price is so important. Of course price is always important but these days it seems to be the deciding factor regarding how many people spend. Everyone wants to save; and I am no different. I'm on a first name basis with half the staff at Dollarama. Which Dollarama? The one in Lansdowne Village of course. I've shopped enough dollar stores to know where the good ones are... Strolling the low-lit, spacious aisles of Safeway in search of exotic flavours of Fancy Feast for our cats is a luxury that I rarely indulge. They get leftovers from the restaurant like the rest of us.

If anything good comes out of hard times, it is perhaps that we are forced to waste less, and reorganize to become more efficient. When the economy improves, we will hopefully be in a better position to grow. And things will improve. When they will improve is anybody's guess. And at this point, I think the economists, politicians and "experts" are doing just that; "guessing" as to whether or not the recession is over...or just beginning?

Never mind, enough doom and gloom. We have a great team at Sanbiki that do their best to take care of our customers. The "Sanbiki Service Industry Experience" is certainly not for everyone! Those who survive the first week usually stick with it and they are "keepers". We couldn't do it without them. On the other hand more than one "newbie" has gone MIA after their first shift, never to be heard from again...sometimes they are so shell-shocked they don't come back for their paycheck and we have to mail it out!

This month has seen something of a shake up on the Sanbiki schedule. Chie has entered her final month of pregnancy and has finished at the restaurant until after baby is born. Everyone is so happy for her! We will keep in touch with her and hope that in the future she will rejoin the team.

Danielle is away on a cross-Canada adventure for a month or so. Customers ask "Where's the girl with the cool dreads?" We don't know exactly...but we hope she is enjoying herself wherever she is. Come back soon...or eventually, anyway!

Soon-ja, Kishino and Jeff are Masato's support in our big, beautiful open kitchen. Soon-ja worked for us years ago at the old location but then had to return home to South Korea. Eventually, she and her partner came back to Kamloops to settle. We are delighted to have her back at the new and improved Sanbiki. She makes amazing homemade kim chi (a spicy Korean pickled veggie dish) and is introducing us to the flavours and traditions of Korean cuisine.

Kishino was born in Kyoto, Japan. Kyoto was once the capital of Japan and is famous for its food. "Kaiseki" cuisine is an ancient, traditional style of dining with guests enjoying many small courses of exquisitely arranged dishes made from the freshest, usually local, ingredients. Great care is taken with the presentation of the food and the season is always reflected in the Chef's choice of dishware and garnishes. Kishino appreciates this attention to detail and has also had experience with macrobiotic, vegan and gluten-free cooking. You may sometimes see her selling her homebaked treats at the Kamloops Farmers Market!

Jeff is the newest addition to the kitchen crew. Bred and Born in B.C. he has been in Kamloops for close to 10 years. He is picking things up quickly and learning the weird and (sometimes!) wonderful Sanbiki Way....Rumour has it BBQ is still his first love...We'll fix THAT!

School is going back soon and the Sanbiki student staff will have to do some schedule shuffling. Megumi has already graduated from TRU and may take some night courses but will stay on full time in the fall. She has also studied in Bejing and Shanghai and can speak Mandarin, Japanese and English. I speak English. Only. And not that well... Sigh! Megumi recently went home for a holiday to Fukushima in northern Japan. She returned to Kamloops bearing gifts...specialty sweets and dried seafood from her hometown. Delicious, and it's always fun for us to try new things!

Jessica is studying at TRU so back to school soon...BUT she will stick with us on a part time basis. Juicy Jessica tidbits I'll bet you didn't know...she was a Rodeo Queen and keeps on riding albeit now on a volunteer basis with a local therapeutic association. We had a nasty cut in the kitchen last week and it turns out Jessica once worked as a life guard and has had first aid/emergency care training! She took care of Sayuri's cut...good thing too...I faint at even the hint of blood....

As most of you know, when we relocated to our new location we brought our grocery store Mori Mori together with Sanbiki at the corner of 5th and Lansdowne. Tomoko is our manager and has been with us since the start. She has helped us establish the grocery and build relationships with our many regular customers. She is helping us do more at the store in our new location. We have an Asian take out deli at the store with sushi made fresh daily at Sanbiki. Tomoko knows loads about the products at Mori Mori and can help you find whatever you need to create your own Asian recipes at home.

We have expanded our line of products at Mori Mori to include dishware, Korean and Chinese products and are selling a lot more sushi quality seafood products. Local, sustainably sourced tuna and salmon are Oceanwise certified and can be served raw or cooked. We have lots of Japanese snacks and sweets that are superpopular with our young customers. Ever heard of Ramune, Pocky or Pocari Sweat? Have you met the Happy Cow or chewed up a White Rabbit? Chances are your son or daughter has.

Its amazing the number of young people interested in Asian culture and cuisine. They are studying Japanese in Kamloops high schools and some apply for educational exchanges with cities in Japan. Tell them to meet you at Uji Way and they know Uji is our sister city. They know the difference between sushi and sashimi and when they come to the restaurant we do our best to spoil them silly. Like all of our guests. We have a diverse clientele but they all appreciate quality. And its our job to make sure they get it.

Thats all for this entry..stay tuned for more on Mori Mori and Sanbiki!

is alwa

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!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

HM 11/08/10 Low Tech Me

Testing 1..2..3..Will it work? Low-tech Heather is attempting to connect to BlogLand! If the experiment is a success...stay tuned..

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Welcome to Sanbiki

We are a Japanese restaurant located in downtown Kamloops, serving delicious traditional, modern and local food. A business owned by husband and wife, Masato Kotani (Japanese) and Heather McDonald (Canadian), we have a diverse menu of classic Japanese and Japanese/western cuisine. In the kitchen we have talented and creative cooks creating dishes for everyone’s tastes. Vegetarian and wheat free items are included making Sanbiki a great choice for a family dinner or even a business-meeting lunch. The serving staff at Sanbiki are pleasant, helpful and knowledgeable, and want to help you have a great dining experience.

Between the warm, welcoming atmosphere and great food Sanbiki is an experience you do not want to miss out on. Come dine with us!