The Kokoro Files tells the stories of everyday people and their connection to Japanese culture. For restaurant owner Terry Huang, he was inspired by his love of Japanese food and set out to create one of Manchester’s finest sushi joints, Umezushi.
Yamato Magazine caught up with Terry about his reasons for starting up a restaurant and the challenges associated with it and what it means to start again from scratch in the hospitality industry.
I’ve found his story to be extremely inspiring because it demonstrates the reality of running a restaurant, but also having the courage to continue to push forward and stay passionate.
Thanks for taking the time to chat Terry. You’ve been supplying Manchester with some of the finest Japanese fare for some time with Umezushi, but unfortunately you had to close down. I’d heard that was because of the difficulty in being able to train staff around developing such a niche menu and the cost of supplying ingredients.
Can you describe how you felt about when you arrived at the conclusion that keeping Umezushi open wasn’t sustainable?
It felt natural and the right move to make. Given the time and resources constraints, we have attempted as much as possible before reaching the conclusion.
What inspired you to open a restaurant to begin with and what is it about Japanese food that you feel is so special?
I’m from Taiwan and Japanese food is prominent in Taiwan. That’s the food I grew up with. I open Umezushi as an experiment to see whether the style of sushi I’m used to can could be accepted in the Manchester market and whether that style of sushi could be made in a financially sustainable way.
What was it about Manchester that compelled you to set up shop?
I was studying in Manchester when I opened Umezushi and I felt it was a natural choice. Although, I did specifically choose the Mirabel Street location on purpose to recreate the vibe of exclusiveness.
Your new concept, Chish and Fips, aims to provide a new take on a classic British dish with fish and chips. What Japanese influences can diners expect?
The batter is probably the biggest difference. We will use tempura style batter instead of more traditional beer batter.
I’ve heard you’re also planning to make Chish and Fips cashless and give people the opportunity to order ahead via tablet in the near future. How important do you think technology is from a food convenience perspective?
If I wasn’t confident that we can get a cashless self-ordering system at a reasonable cost, then I would have taken a very different decision regarding Umezushi. To me, it is an integral part of the plan to make Chish and Fips.
In addition to Chish and Fips, you’re also planning to open up another food space called Kitchen In An Arch (KIAA). What’s involved with that and where would you like to see KIAA go in the future?
Kitchen In An Arch was going to be used to mainly support Umezushi with some retail function. The idea was that customers could then purchase sushi ready ingredients such as rice and fish and enjoy making sushi at home without all the complicated prep work involved.
Due to the attention needed of Umezushi, we weren’t able to spare enough resources to set up KIAA properly. Now we have removed the blocker and it allows us to setup KIAA to have a heavier focus on the retail side.
How important do you feel sourcing food ingredients sustainably is towards the longevity of a restaurant?
While I believe environmental sustainability is important, I think sourcing anything in a financially sustainable way should be the priority. After all, if there is no money, then there is no sourcing. Only when a business is financially sustainable, one can meaningfully act on other types of sustainability.
What would your best advice be for anyone who wants to set up their own food space?
This is a tough question. I think I would ask that person “Do you want to cook or do you want to do business?” The former is like making a piece of music and the latter is building a well-oiled machine.
They can and will coexist in any organisation but the priority should be clear so it can help with decisions related to the food space. I wasn’t clear about that and as a result the business suffered.