Archive for April, 2009

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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April 30, 2009 at 2:39 am 1 comment

Sushi Party – SGP!

Last week, Japanese friends came into town.  Their purpose was to evaluate whether they wanted to be partners in Standing Sushi Bar and the sushi chef was here to check out Singapore as a place to live.

These were the goals:

  • Solidify menu concept – started but needs more work
  • Ascertain quality of fish / skill of sushi chef (he has 7 years experience of running a sushi bar… what does that translate to in taste!) – done and great!
  • Determine partnership / investment conditions – done – interesting discussion about how to split the percentage ownership and what each partner brings to the project
  • Drink sake / eat good food – excessively and happily done
  • Tour around Singapore (so the chef can determine if he will like it here) – I have never seen someone so happy to be eating ice cream in the hot sun as Kawa-san was.  And he loved the local food… first time to try Indian food
  • Check out restaurant supply stores / compare with what we saw in Japan – remarkably cheaper than restaurant supply stores in Japan.  Even before industry discount.
  • See the “Japanese” side of Singapore – didn’t get a chance to take them to Cuppage Plaza but we did see the smattering of Japanese restaurants at Central by Clarke Quay and the ones at Robertson Quay
  • Did I mention the drink sake part already? – they brought a cask; I drank it.  They also laughed at the price of the same cask at Meidi-Ya (76 SGD or so)… apparently at Tokyo airport it was dirt cheap.

    On Friday I ordered salmon, tuna, mackerel, ebi, and assorted fish from one of the suppliers I had been in contact with.  Figured we could check out the fish quality and the chef’s skill.  Invited 20 people over and had a feast.  It was a thing of beauty to watch Kawa-san strip a whole salmon and transform it into a wondrous slab of nigiri sushi.

    The salmon was top-notch.  Tuna… hmm.  Fresh but something was lacking.  Admittedly I prefer salmon over tuna.

    One lesson learned from this sushi party… the restaurant will need adequate ventilation.  For days after, my apartment smelled of fish.  And the leftovers… for 6 days afterwards I ate fish for every meal.

    I am happy that we got partnership details worked out and that Kawa-san accepted our offer.  As any good husband would, he needs to get final confirmation from his wife and I should be hearing back later today!  Out of all of us, he is probably taking the biggest risk – first coming to Singapore by himself but eventually moving his wife and children here.

    Hopefully after today, Standing Sushi Bar will have its first chef!

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    April 28, 2009 at 1:47 pm Leave a comment

    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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    April 24, 2009 at 1:39 pm 5 comments

    Ultimate Business Card?

    Since I will be ordering business cards soon, I thought this was appropriate. While I understand his desire to demonstrate that his business card would stand head and shoulders above all… well… in his words:

    “It’s the kind of thing where even if they don’t like you, they won’t throw it out. Because it demonstrates incredible marketing ability.”

    Found via Sangsara blast!

    Perhaps I will use a business card that can be used as a dish to hold soy sauce.  That way you’re always ready to eat sushi as long as you’re holding my card.

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    April 21, 2009 at 9:40 pm 2 comments

    Japan Delegation

    There are a few topics “in progress” I have been working on; hopefully will put them up next week as it would be great to get input from the greater world of the internet.

    For the next few days my apartment is going to be taken over by 4 guys from Japan.  One is a sushi chef contemplating moving here to Singapore and 2 of the others are interested to invest and be partners in this Standing Sushi Bar. (The 4th is someone I haven’t met before who is coming along for fun).

    Nobu KawaKoki

    I have ordered 4 kg of salmon and tuna to test out the quality of the fish supplier as well as gauge our sushi chef’s ability to slice, dice, and serve.  One of the first things I’d like to achieve is establishing confidence with our primary fish supplier.  Top priority of this sushi bar is that we will serve high-quality excellent fish.  (And yes, high-quality sushi – so that includes the seaweed, rice, wasabi, and other ingredients).  But it all starts with the fish.

    Goals for this trip:

    • Solidify menu concept
    • Ascertain quality of fish / skill of sushi chef (he has 7 years experience of running a sushi bar… what does that translate to in taste!)
    • Determine partnership / investment conditions
    • Drink sake / eat good food
    • Tour around Singapore (so the chef can determine if he will like it here)
    • Check out restaurant supply stores / compare with what we saw in Japan
    • See the “Japanese” side of Singapore
    • Did I mention the drink sake part already?

    I’ve known Nobu for 6 years and he’s one of my best friends.  I met Koki about 4 years ago when he visited Singapore and Nobu asked me to show him around.  Kawa-san used to work in Vancouver where Nobu and Koki lived for awhile.  They frequently ate at Kawa-san’s sushi bar and became friends… all staying in touch after they moved to Japan.

    And tonight they’ll be arriving in Singapore.  Grow, Standing Sushi bar team, grow!

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    April 16, 2009 at 5:01 pm Leave a comment

    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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    April 12, 2009 at 7:07 pm Leave a comment

    Standing Sushi Bar blog purpose

    Hi all – welcome to the Standing Sushi Bar blog.  I’m hoping to turn this into a resource for people interested in starting up a small business, particularly food and beverage related, in Singapore.  I’d also like to record my experiences (I assume there will be many mistakes and amusing moments) of taking a business idea from concept to creation.

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    April 12, 2009 at 7:03 pm 1 comment

    Standing Sushi Bar

    Join us at our branches in Singapore's fast-paced Raffles Place business district or unwind in our flagship branch located in the Bras Basah Arts & Historic neighborhood. High-quality, healthy, affordable dining. Open at Marina Bay Link Mall and 8 Queen Street!


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