I think by now, all Sydneysiders have at some stage either heard of, or been to four month old Japanese restaurant and karaoke, Mizuya. Thanks to this month's sponsors, Silver Chef, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the entrepreneur behind Mizuya - Jessie Xiao, to discuss her experience in starting up a food business. It is hard to believe that at only 31 years of age, this is her third venture! So following on from the theme of entrepreneurism in issue #02 of our newsletter, I just had to share the inspirational story of this young business woman.
In 2005, armed with plenty of passion and motivation to learn, Jessie left her full time job in funds management at 25 to join her then boyfriend (now husband) at K Square Karaoke which they had started from scratch. "We both knew we had that entrepreneurial spirit and that we were always going to do our own thing." Jessie says. A year later, together with a combination of their own savings and financing from Silver Chef, sushi bar Umi Kaiten-Zushi was born.
Silver Chef basically provides equipment funding solutions that help hospitality businesses achieve their potential. They don't exclude those who don't have a trading history or who are young and without assets such as a home or previous business. "It is the use of the equipment not the ownership that generates profit" says Silver Chef CEO, Allan English.
The idea of Jessie's third venture, Mizuya, is the result of seeing an increase in the demand for izakaya style dining. These are like pubs which offer Japanese tapas and drinks.
"It's for a bit of fun after work - a gathering place. These booths offer a bit of privacy and intimacy plus we also have private dining rooms which can be used for business presentations or leisure. They're fitted with free-to-air TV, Foxtel and karaoke, but I've ensured that the rooms are still comfortable enough to eat in" Jessie says. "I grew up [in China and Hong Kong] where it was ordinary to have karaoke at home and really wanted to bring this experience into the general market to include families with kids and elders."
The restaurant itself looks like a maze with rows and rows of casual dining booths. It is a completely different world to the bustling George Street which it sits beneath. The décor is dark and atmospheric with a sleek luxury undertone and purple glow. The menu specializes in kushiyaki (grilled skewers) and kushiage (deep-fried skewers) as well as your typical Japanese sushi, sashimi, hot pots and teppanyaki.
She puts her success down to taking pride in her work. Jessie giggles and admits that she's a perfectionist who believes there is no textbook solution to the way of business. "I don't expect people to think I'm an expert at everything 'cause I don't come from within the industry" Jessie says. "I'm learning new things every day. Even just this morning, I met with a supplier and learned so much about wine. I'm never ashamed to ask questions and that follows through to the way I work with my staff".
So why Japanese cuisine if she's Chinese? "I have a combined degree in business and arts. In the arts stream, I studied the Japanese culture and have a love for their food". "I like being able to control my own destiny and don't like the constraints of falling into a bracket. You don't have to be Japanese to open a Japanese restaurant."
It took her almost a year to open Mizuya. The lease was signed in April 2009 but there was a lot of research into the viability of the business behind the scenes which she says probably started just before Christmas in 2008. Jessie has been hands on in experiencing every facet of the business and put herself in charge of everything from learning about the legal environment to deciding on the menu and pricing options.
During that time, Jessie also approached Silver Chef as in retrospect, she believes she didn't utilize them as much as they could have the first time [with the opening of sushi bar Umi Kaiten-Zushi]. With such a large project on hand (Mizuya occupies over 1000sqm) in a prime location, it was important to have both flexibility and the ability to save capital. "The team at Silver Chef were so understanding and helpful; they got quite close to the business and became like a business partner." Jessie says.
She also proudly shows me the $20000 equipment that Silver Chef has helped fund. It produces their green tea soft-soft ice cream which has been pictured in food blogs across Sydney and is a perfect tasting replica of the cones I had in Japan.
Another popular piece of equipment is the touch-screen ordering system which sits at every booth. This may have been introduced to Sydney by Wagaya but Mizuya's custom-developed system goes beyond the front end novelty. "It is a complete POS system which is capable of spitting out analytical data on sales" she says. She continues to advise that it is important to plan ahead as setting up a food business is a lengthy process which is not easy but extremely rewarding.
"The next milestone will definitely be the payback period which is closer because of a smaller start-up capital [than if we were to fund all the equipment ourselves]" Jessie says. Mizuya takes up most of Jessie's time now but with a 15 month old baby, she is keen to eventually delegate more responsibilities to her management team so that she doesn't have to be around all the time. However, in terms of success, she doesn't believe she has reached it yet!
Similarly to my philosophy, she encourages people to step into entrepreneurism young, while they have the corporate world as their fallback. "You can lose money but that's replaceable. The most important part of this process is gaining new experience and knowledge".
More about Silver Chef
For over two decades, Silver Chef has helped thousands of Australian businesses through an extensive dealer network of over 400 dealers Australia wide. Currently over $100M worth of Silver Chef equipment is helping Australian entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.
Phone: 1800 660 656
Mizuya Japanese Restaurant & Karaoke
Basement, 614 George Street, Sydney
Open 7 days, 11:30am - midnight
Phone: (02) 9266 0866