We finished up the 2022/3 season last night, our 14th in Niseko, and first in the new takeaway format. The transition from restaurant to takeout was not easy and required a lot of improvization, i.e. making it up as we went along; but by January, and after several tweaks, things were running quite smoothly. It terms of business, it was a good rebound after two lost seasons due to Covid.
At the same time we were thrilled to welcome our regular customers and friends from around the world. We had all aged a bit which made the reunions all the sweeter.
The overwhelming response from customers to our new business was, firstly, sadness that they could no longer dine in, which was understandable considering that Ezo was a favorite holiday gathering spot for over 10 years. People asked “why did you close the restaurant?” or “are you reopening the restaurant?” It was clear that while Keiko and I have moved on from the idea of restarting the restaurant, many customers had not.
On the other hand, we were thrilled with the many positive responses from guests about our new sushi and sashimi platters. We enjoyed following their Instagram posts and seeing how our takeout platters could enhance the dining experience in the many new condominiums and houses in Niseko. We hope that the walk-in style market from 5pm provided guests with a convenient seafood takeout option, even if meant a wait on busy days and stocks were often sold out within 1 hour.
One of the goals of the new operation is to shift from a general seafood restaurant offering a range of Japanese and Western seafood dishes to an Edomae-oriented food kitchen and operation. Edomae is the traditional sushi and food culture of Tokyo. It gave me a chance to apply many of the learnings from my 2- month intensive Edomae course at the Tokyo Sushi Academy last summer such as fish butchery, sashimi slicing and sushi rice preparation. Of course, Keiko’s background in cooking is rooted in Edomae cooking so it was a natural and easy transition to an Edomae kitchen operation.
At our daily market, we offered sushi and sashimi boxes which included Nigiri sushi and Edomae staples such as homemade Shimesaba (vinegar Mackerel), Shiitake (soy broiled mushroom) and fresh Wasabi and ginger.
I continued the daily solo drives to Sapporo or coastal markets to source the seafood. It's a five hour round trip but allows me direct access to the best quality seafood in Hokkaido every day. I also like to think of it as our commitment to customers that we put freshness as one of the highest priorities. Many people say "why don't you get someone else to do it?" but entrusting this work to someone else would be like giving up on Ezo Seafoods. It's that important.
We also debuted the vintage Japanese serving "boats" that we sourced in Nagano last year. I was concerned about how to manage their return but in the end we didn't have a single problem.
Our staff of 4 was the lowest level staffing at Ezo in over a decade. They did a great job of adjusting to the new model. Most of them now return to the mainland to pursue summer jobs such as caddying at golf resorts. One will stay to enjoy Niseko year round. We are hoping to bring them all back next season to give us a strong starting position for 2023/24.
To everyone who supported us -- customers, community and staff -- THANK YOU!
As for Summer, this year we will reopen Ezo Seafoods Summer from June to end of August (Thurs-Sunday). Hope some of you can make it down there, we are still serving the squid ink paella, and other Mediterranean inspired dishes.
Now for some downtime!
James Gallagher & Keiko Takaoka-Gallagher