#24 From rock bottom to success? by Hiroshi SAKURAI
“Opening a restaurant with Chef Joël Robuchon”
Do you know those places where they would put a glass in a masu square and serve sake in it? I really don’t like that. I think it is kind of weird, having to stare at the glass being poured to see how much sake is spilled over the glass into the masu. Moreover, the way the customers have to curl up their backs, bringing their mouths to the glass to prevent the sake from spilling makes them look bad.
One day, for some occasion I cannot remember I wrote that the sake industry was only dealing with “Senbero” (sen “thousand”, bero “drunk”; i.e. getting drunk with only one thousand yen). Many people got angry at me saying that, as it seems that the “senbero” people represented an important part of their customers. I wanted to disrupt this trend, leading to the shrinkage of the sake industry. So I opened up a bar, "Dassai Bar 23" in Kyobashi, Tokyo. It was opened on May 7, 2013. The "23" was obviously a reference to Dassai 23.
This was a bar that only offered Dassai, served in wine glasses only. No beer and no wine. I also wanted to make it look cool, so I was very picky with the interior design. Soon after we opened, I was surprised to see that many of the customers, probably about 70 percent, were women. They would come in, drink one glass and leave immediately. Many have told me that, they usually feel uneasy going to a usual izakaya or cheap bars, but this felt easier for them to go into a premium sake bar. This bar was quite unique, I think it was interesting for the customers, and in a way, there was a true meaning behind it. But we closed the bar in the spring of 2019.
Three years earlier, in 2016, we had opened a new store “Dassai store Ginza”. It is our own store where you could purchase our sake and do tastings as well. I believe that having a specialized store in Ginza is truly important for a brand.
In June 2018, I opened “Dassai Joël Robuchon” in Paris, France, in collaboration with Joël Robuchon. It is a restaurant where you can enjoy Dassai sake along with the cuisine of Chef Robuchon, the most Michelin-starred chef in the world. It's a French restaurant, but since it's designed to serve Dassai sake, it has a very small selection of wines. Unfortunately, Chef Robuchon passed away in August of 2018, but he came to our sakagura in April of the same year and told us at the end of the day: "This is precise sake-crafting, a sake-crafting that looks like a Swiss watch factory”. We are very proud of those words.
When we opened this restaurant in Paris, he was already too weak to walk down the stairs without the help of some staff, and I heard that it was the last time he ever wore his chef coat. Mr. Robuchon loved Dassai and it was he who approached us to open a restaurant. I don't think he would have teamed up with a sake producer like us if he had only thought about making profits. So I'm going to run the place in this way, not for profit, so as not to tarnish the friendship he was kind enough to give me.
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