Quality is driving force behind Ichiban Boshi
By Annet Kulyagina
When you walk into Ichiban Boshi, the Japanese restaurant on Krasnaya Presnaya, a waitress shouts a “welcome!” in Japanese and shows you to your seat. The cry also alerts the kitchen staff that a new customer is on the premises. When it’s peak time on a weekday, with office workers from the neighborhood crowding in for their fix of “Sushi and so much more,” to quote the restaurant’s slogan, the noise can reach the level of a busy and boisterous market.
It is just one of the details that Japanese- born restaurant entrepreneur, Taki Tsutsui, and his chef, Hideki Kishimoto, are insistent on.
Being Japanese, both are passionate about their national food and its highest quality. The pair has worked together for six years, including three in Singapore. The chain originated there as part of the RE&S Enterprises group, which covers eight brands of Japanese restaurants in the foodmad city-state. With six outlets in Singapore, Ichiban Boshi is the largest chain and Tsutsui’s sights are set on a similar number in Moscow alone.
Against fast growing Moscow city businesses, they have taken a measured Japanese approach to developing the brand in Moscow. “When I came here four years ago I did not know the ABC’s about Moscow,” Tsutsui admits candidly in the boardroom off the main restaurant hall. “I had to find a local partner; we had to locate suitable premises; we had to decorate and finally, after a year, in April 2004 we opened this restaurant.”
“Our pace is very slow compared to others,” (restaurant developers) he says. “We made some mistakes, but we are pushing on,” he concedes with an infectious smile that lights up his face.
“Pushing on” means opening a second Ichiban Boshi on Prospekt Verndaskogo last December and in April, opening a Japanese fine dining restaurant, “Tsvetenie Sakury on ulitsa Krasina.” This is typical of RE & S who favor an unhurried Japanese approach to business, learning from the first outlet and refining their product before branching out. Now their pace is heating up with a third Ichiban Boshi scheduled for this year and two more planned for 2008.
Being Japanese both Tsutsui and Kishimoto are serious about Japanese food. “What we are doing is not something very unique, but we take it seriously,” Tsutsui told Passport.
He points out that in Singapore they experience very high tropical temperatures year-round and this requires great attention to how they store and transport their ingredients and finished food. “We are very conscious of hygiene and sanitary control.”
That means they have special take away SOPs (standard operating procedures) to combat the growth of bacteria. Similarly, for handling raw tuna in the kitchen, the duo insists on it being wrapped in absorbent paper. “If tuna is exposed to air it dries out, if it is in sealed containers it develops a smell. The paper absorbs the drips, no smell!” says Tsutsui with another beaming smile.
On a serious note, he says that with Sushi restaurants it is very easy to end up with food that’s past its prime.
“I’m not denigrating Russian cooks, but our Japanese have more sensitive taste buds to our national dishes and are able to sense quality or a problem more quickly.”
Generous of spirit, he is unstinting in his praise of how Russians have seized the Japanese Sushi dining culture and notes the increasing professionalism in local chains such as Yakitoria, which he has watched grow over the last four years. “Their quality is improving and their standard of service is improving. I admire the way they are handling their business.”