Late night ramblings

I can’t believe that Standing Sushi Bar is coming up to its 3 year anniversary.  Where has the time gone?  I can still remember the opening day jitters at OUB Centre.  When was that… back on August 19, 2009?  I was still a Microsoft employee back then with no idea what running a restaurant would entail.

Almost three years later I sit at my desk late at night with a whisky in hand and I think… “Damn, I thought this was going to be easier.”  And I laugh.

The business has lurched from crisis to crisis over and over again.  I have a feeling that anyone in business feels the same about their operation.  There are successes along the way but there’s only a few days of being able to take a breather before something happens to make you want to nip at that whisky bottle again.

At some point I’m going to have to write an anti-entrepreneur post.  You know how university commencement speakers like to make that joke, “Don’t leave!  Stay in school!”  It’s the same thing.  If you’re in a solid corporate job then let me yell out, “Enjoy it!  Heck, milk it!”  Trust me, the “stress” of building a PowerPoint deck because some Vice-President from the overseas headquarters is coming for a visit pales in comparison to figuring out where to find money to pay your staff (note – this was at the early stages of the restaurant, it’s stable now… just in case potential staff are reading this!!).

I like that word… lurched.  I think lots of people like to look back and say they had a plan, they had this map in their mind that took their business from point A to point B.  It reminds me of something I read once; how all super-successful people that get involved with charities think the answer to solving the issue (world hunger, lack of education, etc.) is related to whatever field their expertise is in.

I had a plan too, but that plan obviously didn’t go to… plan.  If it had these words would be written by a corporate communications person who reports to a PR manager who has to e-mail me for my opinions since I would be sipping a margarita while lying in a hammock swinging in the Maldives.  Okay, just kidding, I like writing on the blog.  I just figured that I’d have office staff by now, but I still can’t seem to justify it.

So yes, lurched.  Fumbled, bounced, crashed, whatever words you want to use.  And I don’t mean it in a bad way.  Some stuff works, lots of things don’t.  It’s like those racing video games where you can smack the car into the sides but ultimately you’re always going forward.

How do I hire staff?

I know, I know… I am always writing about staffing woes.  I’m sure the three readers of this blog are tired of reading about this topic, but I think it’s a reflection of what one of the biggest worries is when it comes to running a restaurant – you’ll always be worried about staffing.

Anyway, Standing Sushi Bar is expanding!  We’re heading to Orchard Road in late September and will be launching a new concept (so not called Standing Sushi Bar but something like xxxx by Standing Sushi Bar).  I’ll definitely be writing more about this later, but first… staffing!

Since I’m opening a new restaurant, I need to hire lots of people.  Service manager, chefs, service crew, bartenders, dishwasher, etc.  This is no easy task, and with the recent government changes, we are maxed out on our quota for foreigners.

I have put job ads out.  Current ones running are on JobStreet and Gumtree.  Certainly I will be putting more up in newspapers and other internet sites.  The JobStreet ad has been running since July 24 and the Gumtree ads I just put up this morning.

In each ad I state that the positions are for Singapore citizens and permanent residents only.

There have been 25 responses so far.  All are non-citizen and non-permanent resident foreigners from the Philippines and Myanmar.  There have been 0 responses from Singapore citizens or permanent residents.

This is what I state about pay and experience in the JobStreet ad:

“We pay based on experience, and we pay well to secure the right talent.
All levels are welcome!
Must be a Singapore citizen or permanent resident”

I also make it a requirement that the applicant speaks English fluently.  This might be limiting the people that apply.  I have no idea.

So, if you have any advice on how I can tweak my ad or how to find a Singapore citizen or permanent resident who would like to be part of this new concept, let me know!

I feel bad receiving CVs from all these foreigners, many who have great experience in F&B, but I can’t hire them.

Back in time

Facebook is switching every company’s page to the “Timeline” version that it applies to individuals.  I’m actually a big fan of Timeline so I don’t mind the change that is coming.  I know there are many folks that have not taken to the Timeline view.  I wonder if it will somehow change the interaction between a business and Facebook users; I think Timeline’s design makes people want to share and engage more.

Anyway, I’ve been looking at the preview of Standing Sushi Bar’s timeline, and I flashed back to when we first opened.  Our manager (and my good friend) Coral posted this:

“Opening willl be fantastical! with dancing beauty queens and chefs that speak swiss german! Please if you must bring your children know that we do not have anywhere to put them.”

Standing Sushi Bar Japanese Restaurant in Singapore

Standing Sushi Bar at Raffles Place

I kind of miss that small spot!  I definitely don’t miss the rent.

Pinterest for the restaurant

I’m back from a week in New Zealand and unsurprisingly the jet lag is wreaking havoc with my sleeping patterns.  I’ve been seeing a lot of updates from Pinterest recently so I figured insomnia is the perfect reason to go explore another one of these social media internet 9.0 communication enhancer people connector type of tools.  And I must say, it’s kind of fun!

Standing Sushi Bar Pinterest

Basically you create a  board (imagine a corkboard) and when you find an interesting photo you “pin” it to your board along with a comment.  It’s an easy way of sharing. When you see other people’s pins you can “re-pin” their pin to your own board.  It’s like re-tweeting someone’s message except this time it’s a picture.

Follow Me on Pinterest

It will be interesting to see how businesses utilize Pinterest.  Still too early to determine whether there will be staying power or if it will just be another fad.  The way I’m planning on using it for Standing Sushi Bar is to showcase restaurant information (food, promotions, etc.) as well as have people learn what our “spirit” is based on the things that I pin.

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

Standing Sushi Bar Jakarta

A little background about myself – I grew up in the US, fell in love with computers (and sushi) at a young age, and spent years working for one of the best software companies in the world.  9 years ago I came to Singapore to further my career and since then have encountered many random and great opportunities, of which 2 years ago led me to start Standing Sushi Bar.

Tonight I’m sitting in Jakarta, Indonesia (one of those countries which most Americans are scared of), feeling too excited to sleep.  Six hours from now I’ll get dressed and head to La Piazza to witness the opening of Standing Sushi Bar’s newest branch.

I was thinking about how SSB now employs over 60 people.  When you consider how big a part of someone’s life their job is, and that they’re choosing to spend that time with this restaurant, it’s kind of cool.

Earlier I was at the site; everyone was rushing around to get everything set for the opening tomorrow.  Maybe it was the stress or the unfamiliarity of the environment but I was feeling tired and low-key.  My girlfriend and I sat on the balcony which overlooks the main plaza where a band was playing.  I think they were performing an Oasis song.

View from Standing Sushi Bar La Piazza

She said to me, “We’re in Jakarta because of the restaurant you created.”

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Let’s eat some sushi, Indonesia!  I’m so happy to be here!

Standing Sushi Bar Indonesia team

Yusheng for Chinese New Year

Straight out of the winter holiday season we’re directly heading into Chinese New Year. The time for us to all get together and toss raw fish, salad, and other ingredients as high as we can. Lo Hei!

WP_000398 (2) 

This year we will be offering yusheng with your choice of salmon, tuna, or yellowtail (or a combination of the three).

Regular Size (9 slices) – 26.80 SGD
Large Size (18 slices) – 33.80 SGD
Additional sashimi (9 slices) – 10 SGD

To order please e-mail eat@standingsushibar.com or call the branch you would like to pickup your yusheng from.

8 Queen Street: 6333 1335
Marina Bay Link Mall: 6634 7068

Available from January 1 to February 6 with the exception of January 21 – 26 when we will be closed for Chinese New Year.

2011 at a glance

Channel News Asia did a series of interviews with various business folks about how their 2011 went and what lessons they learned.  Loh Lik Peng, Tracy Philips, and others are featured.

I was also interviewed about the year:

What have I learned this year?
2011 was a turbulent yet overall successful year for Standing Sushi Bar. We went through a lot of hard times – closing the original branch after evaluating the future potential of the location, feeling the impact from the Japanese tsunami that made diners fearful of eating Japanese food, and removing staff that were detrimental to the business. Thankfully the latter half of 2011 had many more positives. Existing staff stepped up into expanded roles, customers returned (with positive feedback), and a franchisee is helping us expand to Jakarta, Indonesia.
With all this change, there was a lot of time spent planning and thinking about how to increase the business. One of the biggest lessons was that planning and thinking is great but ultimately you need to take action. Think about what your end goal with a project is, and once you have enough of an idea to move towards the goal, just take action. Frequently we get stuck trying to make sure everything is perfect and instead of doing anything we become paralyzed with analysis or the fear that the execution won’t go well. In a big company you have the luxury of time and money to do analysis. In a small business, it’s all about action.


Who contributed to my successes?
I think with any company, big or small, it’s going to be your staff that are the main contributors to success. For Standing Sushi Bar it was having the crew take initiative to get us through the difficult period after the Japan tragedy and the departure of our original head chef. Aside from the staff, I found it supportive to talk with other restaurant owners. I was able to tell them issues I was facing, learn about what problems they had, and then we brainstormed different solutions together. I think having a network of people that are undergoing similar experiences helps you stay focused and persevere.


What mistakes did I make, and what did I learn from them?
A small business takes a lot of energy and willpower, and to be honest sometimes I just feel tired. I end up not responding to an e-mail that may have led to a big private booking, ignore a PR request, or more commonly take a step back from getting involved in the day-to-day operations. I think it’s impossible to be “always on” but you do have to be cognizant that when you’re not there (mentally or physically) then your business isn’t moving forward.

So how is that Monday promotion working out?

We have run the 2 SGD Monday promotion for 2 weeks now, and for those of you who come to this blog to see a little “behind the scenes” action, I figured I would let you know how the promotion is going and why I decided to hold it.

It’s no secret in the food and beverage industry that the first half of the week is notoriously slow.  At 8 Queen Street our Monday lunches tend to be popular but dinner is quiet.  I’ve been thinking about how to convince people to come to the restaurant on a Monday night, increase the awareness of Standing Sushi Bar, and spur some of the alcohol sales.

For awhile I was fixated on the idea of 1 SGD oysters.  Personally I love raw oysters and I’ve been to a couple restaurants (notably Cocotte and Seafood Paradise at the Flyer) that were running 1 SGD oyster promotions to draw in a crowd.

Alas I wasn’t able to find an oyster supplier that made it feasible to offer 1 SGD oysters.  Now I realize why these other restaurants had strict rules and only a limited time for the promotion.  At a buck an oyster the loss per oyster is pretty high.

Oh, in case you’re not sure why a restaurant would have such a promotion it’s to get people in the door and then make up for the loss on the promotional item by encouraging the customers to order other non-promotion items.

I shouldn’t have fixated so much on oysters and it was an obvious face-slap moment when I realized that instead of looking for oysters why not just use one of our existing items for the promotion? I thought about which item; admittedly I was a little worried about using salmon sashimi since it’s one of our most popular items, why offer it at such a promotional price?

I decided that instead of being tentative, we should dive in and really aim for giving the customer what they would want.  I tried to put myself in the customer mindset – would 2 dollar salmon sashimi and 1 dollar sake be something I would make a trip for?  Yes!  (Sidenote – I think it’s getting harder and harder to view things through the lens of the customer versus that of a restaurant owner).

To the results!  Definitely exceeded my expectations… of course we’ve only had two Mondays with the promotion so far so we’ll see how it evolves, but currently it’s boosted the sales by 55% compared to the average of previous Mondays.  Guest feedback has been positive, so all in all I think this has worked out well.

Now to brainstorm what we should offer on Tuesdays…

Party platter for the holidays

“Just hear the sleigh bells jingling,
Ring ting tingling too
Come on it’s lovely weather
For a sleigh ride together with you”

Ah, the winter holiday season is upon us and that means people are gearing up for parties, Secret Santas, and toffee nut lattes from Starbucks!

Many of you will have gatherings over the next few weeks.  Include sushi in your celebration with friends and family!  Standing Sushi Bar is running a promotion, 20% off the regular price of our party platters when placing an order 24 hours in advance.

Check out our platters and order now!

So much for social media in China

Earlier this week a re-run of the show Clickability was aired.  I was a guest on the episode talking about how I use social media to reach out to diners and interested folks for the restaurant.

I just arrived in Beijing where they have blocked access to Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare.  That makes it a little difficult to see what people are saying and whether people are sending requests my way.

Thankfully there are many ways to get around this (VPN, remote desktop, etc.) so it’s not too big of an issue but it’s definitely an unnecessary hassle.

This brings to light one big issue that small businesses need to factor in if they’re going to regularly engage with their customers via these social media channels… is only 1 person in the company able to do it?

At Standing Sushi Bar it’s only me that is handling the Facebook page, the Twitter account, etc.  I started them all because I enjoyed using these tools and talking with people.  Over time it evolved into a big part of how I get feedback as well as business inquiries.  The problem is if I don’t have access to the sites then people end up not getting responses (at least not quickly) and that can lead to dissatisfaction.

Add this to the list of “things to work on…” when we get bigger. Smile

So you want to start a business?

These days it seems being an entrepreneur is “fashionable.”  With the proliferation of articles celebrating the success of app developers, internet start-ups, and flashy food trucks, it creates an impression that anyone and everyone should get out there and start their own business.

Should they?  Should you?  Should I have?

I came across two blog entries written by Jay Goltz, who is the owner of a few small businesses in Chicago.  He contributes to the small business section of the New York Times and I’ve referenced many of their contributors here before.

From 2009 – Is starting a business brave, smart, stupid, or nuts?

From 2011 – So you want to start a business?

If you’re thinking of starting a business I highly recommend you read the above entries.

Delivery contact

Standing Sushi Bar at Marina Bay Link Mall is a little over a year old now.  Every day I wake up and think how we should have a delivery service.  Based on other restaurants in the Raffles Place area, the folks there are telling me that could add 25% to my daily sales.

Unfortunately it’s easier said than done getting a delivery service set up.  Manpower is the biggest issue – I need more chefs to handle the pre-packaged takeaway preparation as well as the additional delivery orders.  I also need staff to act as delivery runners.

Of course I have to build a delivery website as well.  Calling to order delivery isn’t feasible as during the lunch rush it’s noisy and all the service staff are engaged with the diners in the restaurant.

I’m looking to “outsource” the delivery runner position.  Does anyone have a contact which would provide the delivery staff to me in exchange for 20% of the selling price?  That seems to be an easier way to start the delivery service.  I know there are companies like roomservicedeliveries and other delivery aggregators but they take 30% of the sale and add all kinds of surcharges to the customer.

Still hiring: Service Crew and Sushi Chefs

In the never-ending quest for staff, Standing Sushi Bar is looking for sushi chefs and service staff (waiter / waitress).

Ideally we will find full-time candidates, but if you know anyone interested in part-time, we are hiring for our lunch shifts (generally 10:30 AM – 2:30 PM).  Part-time pay is 7 SGD an hour for the service crew.

Full-time pay is dependent on experience.

Hiring Singapore citizens or permanent residents only

Join our mailing list!

You know how there is something that you know you should do but you just never get around to doing it?  For me, creating a mailing list is one of those things.

With a location in Raffles Place, there’s high foot traffic and a strong likelihood of people dropping their name card into a fishbowl for me to add to the list.

With a mailing list I can contact interested diners directly and not rely on the whims of the Facebook notification system to provide updates.

But for whatever reason, I never got around to creating a mailing list.

Until now!

So please do sign up to receive updates about special offers, promotions, events and other related information.  If you have suggestions on what else you’d like to see, let me know!

Subscribe to The Sushi Times now!

American Sushi

I travel to the US regularly, mainly to Seattle, Orlando, and New York, and I make it a point to see what the various Japanese restaurants on this side of the ocean are like.  You never know where your next good idea might come from!  This week I’ve been in both New York and Orlando and have eaten at three sushi bars.

One observation is that the menus here are loaded with all kinds of fusion sushi rolls and significantly less traditional nigiri.  I have a feeling that the diners are primarily ordering these rolls versus the straightforward nigiri or sashimi.  I feel that’s the case as you can tell the fish quality is not good; it’s mushy and in the thawing process (frozen for a long time) the water has permeated the fish. So it ends up with a limp feel and bland taste.  Which is unfortunate for the traditional sushi lover but if the majority of customers are ordering fusion sushi, then I can see why the restaurant would want to save money and invest in the rolls.  Coated with sauce, deep fried, and full of garnish means that the fish taste is lost amongst all the ingredients.

Fusion sushi roll

Don’t get me wrong, I think fusion sushi rolls are fun and have been thinking about adding some to our menu.  Maybe have an experimental period where people can send in suggestions.

There aren’t many Japanese restaurants in Singapore that offer up fusion sushi.  The two that leap to mind would be Kinki and Sun and Moon.  Any others?

Hiring sushi chefs and bar staff

Hi all, Standing Sushi Bar is looking for sushi chefs and bar staff.

Sushi Chef: Minimum 1 year of experience, adaptable, and looking to learn from experienced chefs.  Need to be able to work well under pressure and in a fast-paced environment.  Must speak English.

Bar staff: Articulate, sociable, and trustworthy.  Willing to work late (midnight+). No previous experience necessary.  Must be fluent in English.

Salaries are dependent on experience

If interested please send your CV to eat@standingsushibar.com

Please note these positions are open only to Singapore citizens and permanent residents.  We don’t have quota for work permit / s pass at the moment.

How a small Singapore business is impacted by what’s happening in Japan

Let me start by saying that what happened / is happening in Japan is a tragedy. The impact outside of Japan is never going to compare what the people are going through there.  We all understand that and hopefully are helping in any way that we can.

This entry is about how what’s happening in Japan has affected my local Singapore restaurant.

Customers are worried about food from Japan. There is a fear that food has been exposed to the radiation that is leaking from the Fukushima reactors. Regardless whether a restaurant is actually getting its food from Japan, the “mass” are lumping anything associated with Japanese food as potentially dangerous.

Our sales have dropped by half.  From what I’ve heard, many Japanese restaurants are experiencing the same.  Despite daily checks by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore and the minimized usage of food from Japan, people are still scared.  I can kind of understand it.

These are some of the thoughts I’ve had the past week:

  • Food supply. We used to get a lot of our fish and ingredients from Japan. Now we’re faced with a situation where people don’t want to eat food from Japan. Do I immediately stop serving food from there?  Even though it’s still deemed safe?
    • What I’ve decided – I was very worried about screwing over our suppliers who are providing food from Japan; we’ve been buying things from them for over a year and I’m sure they’re just as worried as I am about the situation. However this is a business and I can’t keep buying ingredients that no one will want to eat.  Instead, we contacted the suppliers to see what foodstuffs they had on hand which originated before the quake. For the items that we could stockpile (i.e. freeze and keep), we bought as much as possible. It’s a small gesture but hopefully it helps the suppliers have a little breathing room as they figure out what to do next.
    • For everything we can’t stockpile, we have switched to non-Japan items.
  • Communication – I feel weird about broadcasting “No food from Japan served here!”  I feel that’s simply feeding the irrational fear which is preventing people from eating at Japanese restaurants.  At the same time, I recognize that however irrational a fear may be, if a large amount of the population is feeling it, I better address it.  This blog entry is kind of an attempt at that.  A weak one, admittedly.
  • Former staff – Kawa-san and some close friends of mine that have helped with the sushi bar are living in Japan. We (here in S’pore) were all worried about how they were coping. It was also interesting and really nice to see customers ask us about how they were doing.
  • Fundraising for Japan – I’m thinking of how SSB can do more. I think it’s so, so, so good of restaurants such as Inagiku, Kuriya, and others pledging to donate part of their sales towards helping Japan. I wish I could do the same with SSB but fact-of-the-matter is we’re just not in a financial position where we can do it. I am brainstorming if we can do a special event to help raise money rather than a straight percentage of sales. That might be more feasible. In the meanwhile we have collection tins from the Japanese Association (which will be donated to the Red Cross) at each of our outlets.  FYI here is a list of organizations that one can contribute to towards helping Japan.
  • Staffing – Finally last month we hired enough people to be at full strength for each restaurant. Yet now the restaurants are much less busy. I guess this is a good time for a lot of the staff to finally take some days off – when we were short-handed many of them were working crazy hours.
  • Future – The tragedy in Japan is going to have long-term impact. Supplier prices are going to go up, the amount of customers dining may drop, and who knows what other news might come out of Japan.