#12 From rock bottom to success? by Hiroshi SAKURAI
“Beer Restaurant Failure”
Most sake producers do what we call “Kanzukuri” (i.e. making sake when cold, in winter), so we do not have much work to do in the summer, and cannot pay wages throughout the year. Consequently, skilled workers would not come to work for us. That is why I thought about producing local beer, but we ended up managing a restaurant as well. Even though it was the tax office, the authorities that told us to do it if we wanted a beer-making licence, we were motivated to do it as well.
The problem was I had no experience with restaurants, I lacked confidence. So I hired a consultant. This was a huge mistake. At the time, the consultant was taking money from the local government by having American and British street performers in events in Yamaguchi prefecture. So he decided to turn the restaurant into a place where you could watch the street performers while drinking local beer. The consultant was running a promotional event planning company and wanted to make profits from the street performance part.
On March 5, 1993, right next to the famous Kintaikyo Bridge in Iwakuni City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, we opened “The World House of Street Performance”. This was not about Japanese street performance. It was mostly American and British street performance, such as juggling and magic, and was described as "the first permanent facility in Japan where the world's top-level street performers show their skills every day”. All the local TV stations and newspapers came, I had put on a necktie and gave a speech. I think I told them something like the nearby Kintaikyo Bridge was an important place for the city and that I wanted to help attract visitors to the area. Even though, I wasn't able to help in any way at all. The beer was called “Otterfest” beer, a translation from the Japanese name of our sake “Dassai”. The restaurant building had white walls and had a capacity of 200 people with one basement floor and two floors above ground.
On the first day, I was told by the consultant that it was really going well. Indeed, when I came over I saw that there were people lining up to enter the restaurant. I thought it was amazing. However, when I closed the cash register, I found that only 140 people had actually come in. I thought it was strange and felt uneasy, and that uneasiness became a reality. I realized soon after that this first day of opening would be the only day when so many customers would come in. After that, it was awful, and after only three months we closed. In the last few days, we had about 10 customers. Every day, I would look at the restaurant from across the river and wondered what the hell was going to happen to it.
The consultant's management plans were bullshit, and when I looked up closely into it, there were several instances where figures would not add up. For example, the number of lights wasn't what was originally planned. Whenever I would try to get into the management of the restaurant, there would be a backlash from the staff, so much so that there was even a labor dispute. I guess the consultant was running the show behind the scenes.
The original goal was to sell local beer, but before I knew it, the goal had become to show street performances. The beer itself was well received by the customers, but we would lose money every day.
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