Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?
Tomo: I always choose my goals based on the question “What do I want to do?” rather than “Is it possible?” When I opened my first restaurant in Tokyo, my next goal was to open a restaurant in Hollywood! There is always a proper solution to achieve a certain set goal. Timing is very important. People often say that my actions are so quick, including my decision-making. My mindset is ultimately how I achieve my goals. That’s all.
Adam: How did you get here? What experiences, failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Tomo: I traveled from Japan to the U.S. and saw the perfect opportunity to expand the ramen business. Timing is very instrumental and at the time this was my only chance, so I decided to follow my gut. My biggest desire was to introduce delicious ramen to the people of the U.S.
At the beginning, naturally we had experienced challenges. I wanted to create a great dining experience, but didn’t know all of the local regulations. But I realized the situation at an early stage and built a good management structure, so there are no such issues now. An area we are continuing to work on is ensuring that food costs are comparable in all regions of the U.S. and Canada. It is not a setback, but rather an opportunity to continue to improve.
Adam: What have been the keys to developing a celebrity following? What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs on how they can appeal to and leverage the support of celebrities?
Tomo: The most important thing is to make sure our core product is the best. To attract celebrities, we always need to be authentic. Some of our customers have included Keanu Reeves, Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, Chrissy Teigen, Dave Chapelle and many more. Celebrities want to come to our restaurants to experience the cuisine and atmosphere; we’re honored and thankful that they appreciate the JINYA experience. I always insist on having the highest food quality and true authenticity. My team and I are fully confident regarding the food that we offer.
Adam: More broadly, speaking are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?
Tomo: A couple of things I have learned as an entrepreneur: speed is vital, timing is significant, and there is always chance. Back in 2010, most ramen stores were located in Asian towns and their target customers were only Asian. At the time, I decided to take a chance and open my first store in Studio City. Because I didn’t lose great timing – I succeeded.
Another vital lesson I have learned: once you decide on your goal, do not change the core principle. If you alter anything, your employees need to adjust and this will take time. If your staff makes mistakes, the responsibility should be taken upon yourself. You are the support system for your team members and you need to make sure you back them, so that they can work better.
Adam: What are the best lessons you have learned about starting a new business and about franchising?
Tomo: We had some potential partners approach us, wishing to invest in a JINYA franchise. At first, we were not convinced. However, we saw that the popularity of ramen was growing so fast in North America and we want JINYA to be the leader.
I always wanted to introduce fresh and delicious Japanese dishes to people in many cities around the U.S. In the beginning I learned that if I used my own money, I needed to tell only myself that it would be successful and worth the time and energy. I realized that if I wanted others to invest money into my brand, I would need to explain why my brand would be worth doing.
My first store in the U.S was very successful, but that didn’t mean that the franchise business would be too. We quickly realized that by franchising, we would be able to set a detailed structure that would maintain the great quality of food, it would be the fastest way to grow the brand, and bring the JINYA experience to more guests. Therefore, I decided to move forward with franchising and prepared enough facts for perspective franchisees to understand our potential. We developed our franchise systems, and built training and marketing departments to handle the high demand and now there are over 30 franchise locations in North America.
Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?
Tomo: The best piece of advice I have received is from my father. He told me that we can always solve a problem. In business, there are always good and bad times and there are always obstacles. We need to ask ourselves, “Did we make excuses and say it was because of an external factor?” Then, the answer is to find an internal solution. This is one of our core values.
For example, if a store’s sales go down, how should we think? Is it due to competitors in the area? Or because the economy is bad? These are the external factors that could impact this issue, but if you started focusing on just that then you will not improve.
You need to think about what you can do from an internal stand point. Are your operations good? Is your meal exactly the same as how it should be based on the recipe? Does your staff welcome guests with great energy and a smile? These are the factors you should focus on to craft your own solution. I strongly believe if we continue offering delicious meals and top-of-the-line service, guests will always come to our stores.
Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?
Tomo: I think everyone should show appreciation for others. I feel satisfied and overjoyed when guests come back to JINYA because they had a positive experience the first time around. There are countless restaurants, but if they choose to come back to JINYA for dinner or a special occasion then I am so thankful. To show my appreciation, I work even harder to continue making amazing dishes and creating great ambience.
Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?
Tomo: My two biggest hobbies are playing golf and riding my Harley Davidson. I became interested in motorcycles after I watched the movie called “Easy Rider”. My number one dream is to ride across America using Route 66.