Sushi and Japanese food delivery begins!

Ever since opening our branch at Marina Bay Link Mall I've wanted to do delivery.  However setting up an online ordering service coupled with the additional delivery staff proved difficult.  There were existing services that would do the delivery for us, but they took at least 30% of the sale and the implementation was somewhat clunky, so after previous experiences with them I decided to pass.

Finally we are able to start delivery!  Found a good, responsive partner in Hastify, so as of today we are now doing deliveries to folks in Marina Bay Financial Centre and once that's smooth we will expand to more buildings in Raffles Place (and then the world!!!).

Order online, get sushi delivered, and eat!

Order online, get sushi delivered, and eat!

Next time you're swamped in the office or don't feel like going out, simply go to
http://hastify.com/standing-sushi-bar/marina-bay
and we'll bring our Japanese food to you.  Sushi, sashimi, lunch sets, oh my! 

May Update

Hello everyone!  It’s been awhile since I’ve written about what is going on with Standing Sushi Bar.  Aside from the entries about various promotions and menus that we are trying out I feel like I haven’t gotten a chance to talk about the other things that are happening.  I suppose a big reason for this is, like any small business, when the owner gets busy certain things go on hiatus.

On the personal front I left my career of 14 years – I used to be a… I don’t know, community manager, platform evangelist, software tester for Microsoft and now I’m focused on building my own business.  I thought there would be a month of having a good break but surprisingly opportunities came a-knocking and I’m working on a few different projects.  One of the hardest things is to focus!  Too many ideas, too little discipline to handle them all, and too many video games still to be played.

Indonesia

The first branch in Indonesia (Standing Sushi Bar at La Piazza) opened on January 15.  We’re in the midst of finding a location for the second branch.  Exciting!  It’s crazy to think of simply how much larger Indonesia (and Jakarta) is compared to the tiny confine of Singapore.  Certainly a prime location in Jakarta would be awesome but there are so many cities that are underserved by Japanese restaurants that the potential is great.  Factor in significantly lower costs for rent, wages, and setup and you can see why so many businesses are trying to move into the country.

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Look ma! So much space at Standing Sushi Bar La Piazza!

Singapore

I don’t know whether I can credit our Monday promotion, feng shui, or some random thing I did on the internet (bookings through Chope? Loyalty built through Perx?)  but it’s as if folks have started stumbling into the 8 Queen Street restaurant.  Business is up significantly (I hope this doesn’t jinx anything!) so that’s definitely great, especially after a hard 2011.

Maybe it’s cause I yelled at the air-conditioning people and finally got them to fix it?  Hmm.

Over at Standing Sushi Bar Marina Bay Link Mall things have been chugging along nicely.  We introduced new dinner sets and that has helped bring in more customers outside of the Raffles Place lunch hour crowd.  I’ve been working on trying to get delivery started but it has been much harder than expected.  Short of building a web ordering platform from the ground up, most of the solutions out there are tailored for the US market.  There’s lots of room for growth over there (read: anything outside of lunch hours) and I’m excited about the upcoming opening of Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3… since it will bring in a ton of DBS Bank employees and it will be the biggest office tower in Singapore.  On the flip side it is also going to bring in more competition with something like 11+ new restaurants, including a food court.

Expansion

Grow, grow, grow!  I’m looking for new spaces to open Standing Sushi Bar in Singapore (and if anyone wants to talk about other countries, I’m open to it!).  I was keen on the upcoming UE Biz Hub but not keen enough to sign at the rent they wanted. I’m hesitant about the amount of office crowd at Changi Business Park that is willing to spend on lunch at a price point above $8.  With the opening of the Changi City Point mall and the upcoming UE Biz Hub, I feel like there will be a glut of restaurants all competing for the same type of customer… which is fine for an area like Raffles Place but possibly not for Changi Business Park.  It will be interesting to see how these malls evolve.

New Concept

In a “spin-off” to Standing Sushi Bar (can you spin a restaurant off like a sitcom?) I’ve been working on a new food concept.  I’ve almost settled on the first location for it, but since discussions with realtors and landlords can change at the drop of a hat, I can’t y where yet.  I’m excited but also nervous about how fast this one is moving along.

May should be an interesting month!

Back from Jakarta

Hello dear reader! (If there are any…) Hope you’re having a fine time easing into the weekend and getting ready for Chinese New Year.  I recently came back from Jakarta and wanted to share some experiences from the opening of the first international branch of Standing Sushi Bar.  It’s located in Jakarta at La Piazza Kelapa Gading.

Standing Sushi Bar JakartaSushi Bar Queue

The restaurant was scheduled to open on January 15, so I flew to Jakarta on January 13.  I wanted to familiarize myself with the area and see if there was anything I could help with prior to the opening. 

When I arrived, the restaurant looked like this…

Sushi Bar Jakarta Construction

Let’s say my first reaction was to ask, “So… are we really opening 2 days from now?  I notice there is no furniture…”

Shortly after that one of the air conditioning units malfunctioned and dumped water all over the floor.  That was exciting.

Well, there’s nothing a 24 hour construction cycle can’t accomplish and thankfully on opening day we had chairs, tables, and functioning air conditioners.  For a bit I thought we were going to have to revert to the original Standing Sushi Bar concept with no chairs!

I’m sure any restaurant owner has the same opening day worry – what if no one shows up?  I was doubly worried since we had done very little advertising of the restaurant in Jakarta.  The main things were the Facebook page, a tie-in with one retail shop, and a banner along the main street.

I guess when the main street is full of Jakarta traffic, that leads to a lot of eyeballs.

Kelapa Gading Circle Traffic

Which thankfully brought in a lot of people on opening day!

Popular Japanese restaurant JakartaJapanese food sushi Jakarta

The mall where we’re in is like an open air shopping plaza; though there are very few retail shops (you can find a ton in the adjoining mall called Mal Kelapa Gading) and instead it’s full of restaurants and cafes.  There is also a movie theater on the top floor.  One cool thing is that almost every night they have a live band playing on the outdoor stage.  From Standing Sushi Bar’s balcony seating area we get a good view.

La Piazza Plaza

Here’s a daytime view of La Piazza:

La Piazza stores

Plenty of places to get a caffeine fix – Starbucks, J. Co, and Black Canyon Coffee come to mind.  Since there was no internet access in the restaurant yet I was constantly buying coffee so I could use these cafes’ wireless internet.

I’m trying to learn more about the Jakarta sushi scene.  If anyone has any pointers or comments about Japanese restaurants there, let me know!

Until next time!

(Oh, and Standing Sushi Bar Singapore sent a little greeting to the folks in Jakarta)

Jakarta Sushi

Larger than life logo

During opening week it was a pleasant surprise to get various “Congratulations!” bouquets and messages.  I’d be standing in the restaurant and all of a sudden flowers would show up.  This must be what a girl being wooed feels like. :)

Bright yellow flowers, roses, trumpet-looking petals, all kinds of floral arrangements! One of the bouquets even had apples.

Earlier this week, one of the most bizarre opening day presents showed up.  Courtesy of “Shantika Industries.”

Standing Sushi Bar logo

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I have to applaud Shan and Tika for their creativity.

Shan and Shane 

Speaking of Shan, here he is at Standing Sushi Bar along with Shane (one of his repeat visits).

The restaurant has been open a week now. After I get some sleep I’d like to write down my thoughts on how it went.  Let’s just say I am 3 kg lighter now.

Everyone, eat sushi!

Day 1

It has been a hectic couple days. I’m about to head to SSB for Day 3 but was just browsing through some of the pictures from our opening day.

Pre-opening 
In the morning… pre-opening calm.

Coral
Coral and I. She’s been an instrumental part in all of this… from early February when we were watching TV and she asked me, “Whatever happened to your sushi bar idea? Maybe you should look for available spaces again.” Now she’s the manager!

Lights 
Our very small sign at the top right of the shopfront. It’s a long wooden panel with nothing on the left. Might want to put more stuff up or maybe should leave it as a minimalist sign.

SakaeMgr 
Sakae Sushi is across the hall from us. I chatted with their manager, Doreen, and took her on a tour of Standing Sushi Bar. We have stuff they don’t have, they have stuff we don’t have. We shall do customer exchange and make OUB Centre the new sushi haven!

Kawasan otoro 
Time to get the fish ready! Kawasan prepares a big block of otoro… cutting it into the smaller pieces (netta) that are in the sushi display cases. Mmm… melt-in-your mouth fatty tuna belly.

Rayne 
Rayne is camera shy. I had to snap this one when he turned his head back. He was probably thinking, “As the owner, do you want to take my picture or do you want me to prepare the fish so that we can actually have something for the customers to eat?”

Roy 
Roy has been working in the Japanese restaurant industry for 20+ years. Here he is reassuring me that we will be fine. Peace!

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A few of our lovely staff: Nicolette, Taryn, and Charlene.  Don’t they just want to make you smile? I have no idea why but every time I say anything to Charlene, she bursts out laughing. Even if it’s along the lines of, “One of you has to play dishwasher for the day since our machine isn’t usable yet.” On a sidenote, Nicolette, Taryn, Roy and Coral have tattoos. This was apparently an unspoken job requirement I was looking for.

Hokkaido Crab 
One of our opening week specials… Hokkaido crab. Massive!

Twitter 
That’s me on my laptop using TweetDeck.

Flowers 
Flower bouquets congratulating us begin to arrive. As my friend Bernard mentioned, he had never seen one guy get so many flowers. I did feel a little funny my name was on the bouquets.

Potato salad 
One of Roy’s specials. I was skeptical at first… potato salad?? But then I ate it. Awesome.

Back of sushi bar 
Behind the sushi bar right before we open.

Elizabeth
Our crew went out to pass out some flyers 30 minutes before opening. This nice young lady got one of the flyers, said she wanted some lunch, and asked if she could eat now. So yes… our first customer was 10 minutes before official opening time. That is a good sign! Thank you Elizabeth for being the first brave soul to eat at Standing Sushi Bar! (though technically I think she got customized take-away so she didn’t eat it there…)

Leon and Jonathan 
The next two customers – from the Microsoft crew! Leon and Jonathan. The latter bringing a little street cred into the shop with his gang sign.

Tamago 
Note the tamago nigiri on the right. It’s one of Kawa-san’s specials. I guarantee you will not have any tamago like it in all of Singapore. Must try.

Serene
Serene dramatically eats in the early evening. One of our first dinner customers!

Sushi action 
Kawa-san begins the sushi action

Handroll and tea 
Handroll anyone? Oh, just a small mention – we have free hot green tea and water for all, so just ask!

Twitterverse
Twitterverse is represented! @amandaxr, their friend, and @alkanphel are standing!

Janice
Janice presents me with the fortune cat. All shops need one of these!

P1000012
Hello fortune cat. I shall nickname you “standing sushi cat.” I am glad you don’t like smoking.

Crowd
Look at how relaxed people are while they are standing and eating. :)  (on a sidenote, I was looking at the line of people outside Sakae yesterday and thinking to myself that the amount of time they’re standing in line to wait to get a seat, they could be standing and eating already…)

DSCF0218 
Shane has been a loyal repeat customer. In the span of 2 days he has eaten 3 times at the restaurant! (And I don’t force him to do that as a condition of our friendship).

DSCF0220 
Friends! Including picky eater Peishan who I was glad to see eat inari and tamago happily. Maybe one day she’ll try out the fish. On an unrelated note, I think Jussi should shave his beard.

DSCF0219 
Long-term planning – we’re already hoping for the next generation of sushi lovers to join us!

And that, friends and neighbors, was day 1.

Sushi Haikus 7, 8, 9, and 10

Just because I’m in the US doesn’t mean more sushi haikus aren’t going up on the hoardings!  Well, that is if the manager Coral is putting them up.  We had a temporary National Day sushi appreciation poster.

#7
Pink marbled tuna
Sunshine orange ikura
Pearl white hamachi

#8
Come, taste our sake
Shimmery pink salmon or
A glass of rice wine

#9
At night I drink beer
Sake, shochu, yuzu too
And enjoy sushi

#10
What else can be more
Elegantly delicious
Than sushi, my  friend

What to do with all that space?

I wish I was talking about the interior of the restaurant.  Instead, I’m referring to the construction hoarding that is covering the front of the shop while renovation goes on inside.

DSCF0076

As a temporary effort, I printed out posters of the logo, the website, and the twitter address for Standing Sushi Bar.  There’s still so much white space though!

Since the renovation will be taking a few weeks, it would be good to increase the profile of the restaurant and get key messages out to potential customers.  There is a lot of foot traffic in that hallway, and most importantly, there are many sushi-eaters.  Why are there sushi-eaters? Because Sakae Sushi, one of the few Raffles Place sushi joints, is diagonally across the hall from me.

Every day a line forms at Sakae… and while I don’t intend to compete directly with them, they are the primary competitor in the area.

While people wait to enter Sakae, I can use the construction hoarding to make them aware of Standing Sushi Bar and what my restaurant will offer.

To keep the wall ‘fresh’ I’m changing the posters every couple of days.  Sushi haikus, trivia, quotes, and other writings to entertain the passer-bys.

Haha, and easy blog content – I’ll post the sushi haikus!

Renovation begins!

Relief.  Renovation has started.  It has been a terrible feeling knowing I’ve been paying rent for an empty concrete space.

When the shopfront was handed over to me, it looked like this:

021

Let’s hold our breaths for the end result!

Today’s start of renovations:

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The wall that will separate the kitchen from the main dining area. Plaster and tiles will be placed over the bricks.

PIC-0007

PIC-0009  

Pile of materials… I was so happy to see renovation had begun that I felt like I was on a playground, ready to grab clumps of dirt to build a sandcastle.

Location, Location, Location

After a trip to Japan in April 2008, I started thinking about bringing the standing sushi bar concept to Singapore.  I felt it was an idea that would work well in the Raffles Place area, specifically in the 3 square blocks near One Marina Boulevard.  Aside from Sakae Sushi, there was a lack of nearby sushi joints.

The economic gloom and doom had not arrived yet.  I hired a friend (hi Milene!) to help me with initial research on what it would take to open a sushi bar in Singapore and also to help find an available location. No suitable location was found.  We tried Robinson Road, Market Street, OUB Centre, Republic Plaza, the Sail (still under construction), One Raffles Quay, and a few other nearby buildings.  I felt it was vital to have the right location.  If this concept were located at Orchard Road, Dempsey, or Bugis I think we’d have an immediate fail.

While some may call it idiotic, I felt one of the ideal spots would be inside OUB Centre, where Sakae Sushi is located. My reasoning was that people in Raffles Place know OUB Centre is the place to get sushi, so if they come they will see Standing Sushi Bar.  Additionally they can see the contrast between my place and Sakae.

     
Photos via Singapor3 and Sean Munson

Well, without an available location I put the standing sushi bar idea on the back burner and resumed regular life.  In February I was complaining about not having any good sushi to eat for lunch and started thinking about how the economic situation had changed – it was time to search again!

It was very different. Many storefronts were available, and I found myself at OUB Centre looking at a spot in their new food court (where Burger King used to be). Connected to the MRT station, underground, easy access, and full of human traffic. Perfect! Except that the unit I was looking at was upwards of 1,300 square feet which would have forced me to change the concept dramatically. And the OUB Centre staff wanted it open in 1 month. Part of me was ecstatic – so much space!  First shopfront when someone walks in from the MRT!  But… after I found myself seriously contemplating taking it, I came to my senses and realized that trying to open a restaurant within 1 month with almost no experience would be suicidal.

Which takes me back to Sakae.  The OUB Centre marketing manager mentioned she had a different, smaller unit.  Where was it?  Directly across from Sakae Sushi.  “Yep, I’ll take it!”

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Japanese Characters in logo?

The current logo for Standing Sushi Bar was created for the pitch to get shop space at OUB Centre. While I like the logo, it’s a draft and the design team is now brainstorming a new one.

I am considering adding Japanese to the logo – the characters that mean “Standing Sushi Bar.” 立ち食い寿司  Literal translation would be “standing eating sushi” which, in hindsight, would have been a catchy name to use for the restaurant.

I’m hoping with the Japanese characters in the logo, it would encourage Japanese to patronize the restaurant.  The worry is it may dissuade non-Japanese customers as they will see Japanese characters, a Japanese sushi chef, and a concept that is different to anything else in Singapore.  Could be intimidating.  I walked out of Potbelly’s in Chicago because I had no idea how to order and everyone else there was “in the know.”

Current logo:

The bright colors and standing sushi in the logo are fun… provides a whimsical look. My worry is that it may contrast too much with the interior of the restaurant.  Being at the heart of the business district, I may need to have it more subdued and sleek.  Hmm.

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Retail Store Rent

How much rent should I pay?  Based on the folks I’ve talked to that have operated a few successful F&B places, the monthly rental should be maximum 30% of what your estimated monthly revenue will be.  Anything above that and you are signing your small business’s death sentence before even starting daily operations.

While that’s well and good, one of the big problems I had was finding out how much a retail or food and beverage unit would cost to rent.  What was a reasonable figure?

I wasn’t able to find a property agent that specialized in retail / f&b outlets. The property agents I spoke to were familiar with office rents which are dramatically different from storefronts.  For example, an office tower may be renting out their office space at 12 SGD per square foot – 15 psf but their retail space will be targeted at 35 psf.

I called up the leasing agents for a few malls in the peak Raffles Place area. (OUB Centre, shops at the Sail, Republic Plaza, those types).  Generally, at the peak of the market (~June 2008), they were asking for as high as 40 psf.  In February 2009 the range was between 33 psf – 36 psf.

Additionally – rents differ based on the size of the unit. For large units, you’ll typically pay less per square foot than a smaller unit.  One shopfront I looked at charged 22 psf for 1,200 ft.  In that same building and floor, it was 34 psf for a 150 ft unit.

These are the “asking rent” of the mall management – it’s all negotiable.  How much lower one can offer and get away with, I don’t know but if someone has reasonable ideas please leave a comment.

For some places you may be able to get a variable rent agreement with the landlord (i.e. rent may be a %-age of your revenue for the month). For the Raffles Place malls I spoke to this was not an option.

From a more “official” source - March 21, 2009 Straits Times:
”Orchard Road prime rents are predicted to fall 15% – 20% by the end of the year.

Current average price is SGD 34.90 psf (per square foot) a month.  Fourth quarter of last year was the first rent fall in the shopping belt in five years.

Prime suburban rents average SGD 28.30 psf per month.  They are predicted to slide 10% – 15% by the end of the year.”

And, if you feel like reading more… here’s a “Market Study on Retail Mall Rental Space in Singapore” by Competition Commission in Singapore, October 31, 2008.

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