It's notoriously challenging to open a new restaurant. Tough competition, high cost of real estate, managing staff and fit-out of the premises. Thankfully movements such as the Sharing Economy have enabled food entrepreneurs to creatively survive where they may have failed in other times.
I sat down with Keiko who recently opened her Japanese restaurant in Islington, Kuriya Keiko, and asked her about her challenges and tips for surviving those critical first few months.
Liv: What made you start up Kuriya Keiko?
Keiko: We started Kuriya Keiko with the aim of providing a dynamic space for people to eat, learn and share healthy scrumptious food.
Liv: What was your biggest challenge prior to opening?
Keiko: Our biggest challenge, from both a time and financial management view, was to kit out the venue prior to opening and marketing. Marketing is not my expertise so this was particularly challenging and yet it's crucial to get business.
In hindsight I should have tried a pop-up myself as it would have helped me simulate the various aspects of this business so I could practice and build up confidence before diving head first into my venture.
Liv: What has been your biggest challenge since opening? And your biggest surprise since opening?
Keiko: The biggest challenge has been the location of our venue, it's been hard to find a consistent flow of customers from further afield. We have our wonderful local customers that support us which is fantastic. We have let people know that our venue is multi-functional and if anyone has an interesting food or drink idea they'd like to try out, we'd love to make their dream a reality. This, I believe, is a growing trend with Fractional use of space.
Liv: In what ways has collaborating with Pop Up chefs has helped your business?
Keiko: Our collaboration with Pop Up has definitely helped us a lot in terms of building strong relationships with people that share our attitude and approach to food, and as a matter of fact, since our first collaborative event, we have got to know people that are interested in our philosophy and are potential partners for the future.
It's right to say that it's our collaboration with Supper Club chefs that has help fill the gap in the critical footfall we need to build on.
Liv: Do you see the multi use of your space as a short term or long term strategy?
Keiko: We see this as both a short and long term strategy as it's one of the best uses for our uniquely quirky venue.
Liv: Would you see yourself doing supper clubs yourself in your own space? If so, how do you feel this would differ from your daily offering?
Keiko: Yes, of course! As supper clubs allow us to account for exact numbers, by ticketing and taking advance payment we can offer a more unique menu at lower prices which benefits all.
And of course we are then able to bring together a community of like-minded people around our food and space, which is what we want Kuriya Keiko to bring.
In fact, we have exciting plans in store to run in-house supper clubs, bringing a cultural learning experience through food.
Liv: So what next?
Keiko: We're happy to meet young chefs that share our passion for food, we'd be thrilled to help them along their way by providing a venue for them to experience a service before starting up on their own where we'd love to continue to help as they grow themselves.
Without pop up chefs, there would be no way to get an opportunity like this across to those that are thinking about setting up their own place. We see this a win-win situation for them and for us.
We believe that by building a strong community of food entrepreneurs, we can all help each other out and grow together, rather than the traditional opinion that we'd be in competition, which is alienating and destructive.
Using our space as a central point for food collaborations means diners get a better variety, will return to the space more often to discover the latest food ventures and will know that our space is the best place to meet new people who are excited about experiencing new food adventures.