Last Sunday (August 30th), we finished up our first season down here in Izu, hopefully the first of many to come. We will take a break now before heading back to Niseko in October to prepare for the next winter season.
Like our first season in Niseko back in 2009, it was TOUGH. We started with a lot of confidence - coming off our 6th season in Niseko where we were fully booked every night, often months in advance. But we had no idea whether our approach to seafood would work or whether our reading of the local market was correct.
Opened June 5th, with high hopes
It felt like we were walking blindfolded for the first two months. We started off with a bang, and were extremely busy for the first two weeks, as the local people tried us out. But then trade dropped off dramatically. Unlike Niseko, where customers give us a lot of feedback, we were getting little or none from our local customers. We were offering a menu of starters, pasta dishes, paella and acquapazza and were changing the format at least once a week, often daily.
'What was the problem' we were asking ourselves. Location, menu, price? We agonized daily over the mixture, tweaking to try and get thing right. Nothing seemed to work. In June and July we were basically saved by a group of Niseko regulars who came in several times and enjoyed Ezo Seafoods as they do in Niseko - feasting like there is no tomorrow.
Evolving menu format
Around mid July, head chef Keiko decided that something had to give. We introduced a new, more reasonably priced menu which we would achieve by relying less on "imported" Hokkaido seafood such as Asari clams and Akkeshi oysters and using locally sourced products instead. (We had thought that there was a demand from local seafood lovers for high quality Hokkaido sourced produce. Not so!) We also made the decision to make better use of our freshwater tanks to stock live fish (and thereby reduce loss), rather than simply for display. We changed the price of a lunch time sphagetti to ¥1280, which included a bowl of soup and cold drink - an easy entry point for busy local workers just looking for a quick lunch.
Around early August we stopped changing the menu. Things seemed to settle down. Trade remained slow and unpredictable - somedays 20 customers, somedays only two. But we started to see the beginnings of a local following. Tokyo yachties with holiday houses in Izu, local marine business owners and their entourages and housewives from nearby Numazu and Mishima. We were encouraged that these customers were coming in weekly, and ordering the same things again and again. They were bringing in their friends, they were complimenting us on the food.
Our final week was quite satisfying with all of our regulars coming in several times, including one guest who came in for lunch and dinner on the same day! A couple of guests were somewhat distressed that we were closing and would not return until next June. I hope they forgive us!
Staff members gathered for a "Sayonara" lunch at a local seafood restaurant
We were lucky to have a competent and pleasant staff this season who guided us and propped us up with support from their networks of friends and family. Head chef Keiko also deserves special mention, as she took on more of a burden than I did, being the sole chef in the kitchen for lunch and dinner time shifts.
So we got through season one. What a relief! It's still too early to call "Summer" a success. It's a business in its infancy. Lots more hard work ahead, many more challenges.
But we love the area and are seeing the beginnings of a customer base so hopefully success is a bit further down the track.
But for the meantime, Winter beckons and our focus turns towards staff, bookings and the stamina that is required for 100 days in the Niseko winter. It will be great to get back to familiar territory. Izu will be one million miles away...for six months!
Best for now,