Yuji Haraguchi and the mottainai philosophy
Chef / Entrepreneur / Yankees Fan
Stepping into Osakana was like stepping into a quaint bakery that sold fish. The waiting area was decorated with a wiry brass table meant to hold a few tea cups, and an assortment of mismatched ceramics carefully placed on shelves. The pops of color from the tenugui (Japanese hand towel) that had koinobori (carp-shaped wind socks) print and another tenugui with a fish motif gave this room a homey feel, like walking into a friend's apartment. The register was next to a chilled display case showcasing local fish, such as porgy, ready to be bought and served to customers wanting to bring them home. Behind the register were the sounds of dishes being washed while customers chatted with a cook teaching them how to cut and prepare fish.
Yuji Haraguchi, the wonderful chef and owner of Osakana and two other restaurants in Brooklyn (Okonomi and Yuji Ramen), was grateful enough to be a model for a photoshoot with a Japanese-based tees & sweats brand, Dubbleworks. He took a few moments after the shoot to answer a few questions about his career and the philosophy behind his businesses.
Before starting your businesses, what were you doing and what made you decide to change your job/career?
I was selling fish to restaurants at a Japanese seafood wholesale company, mainly for fine dining American restaurants. YUJI Ramen started just as my side job project. But the demand from the customers got too strong to keep my main job. Pretty much [after] that, the customers changed my life. At that time, I don't think I was strong enough to change my job without having someone push me...
What is the concept behind each of your restaurants (Osakana, Yuji Ramen, Okonomi)?
These three concepts are based on "もったいない (mottainai) philosophy." It means "no waste" in Japanase. YUJI Ramen utilizes the fish bones and heads as well as underutilized spices. Okonomi serves Japanese breakfast as the form of 一汁三菜 (Ichi ju sansai). It utilizes all parts of vegetables as well as underutilized fish parts such as collars, roes, and etc... Osakana is a fish market that applies Japanese ways of handling fish with respect to elevate quality of the domestic underutilized fish.
Regarding to Osakana, what was your inspiration for your interior design?
Interior design inspiration came from local, mottainai, recycle, minimal, comfort, respect, and to be a "cool" fish market.
You seem to work with other local Japanese businesses. What was your motivation to work with other businesses like Fumi Salon and Be Fluent?
I believe in small businesses succeed by collaborating with other small businesses who share the same passion and direction. We support each other in a way that benefits everybody.
You also have lessons for customers and visitors to learn how to prepare fish and dishes. What was your inspiration?
So many fishy practices are happening in the world of seafood business. We cannot expect to buy fish by just displaying fillets of fish on the iced counter like everybody else. We have to sell fish with the knowledge to be a sustainable life style. Offering classes are the best and only solution.
As someone who has opened numerous businesses, do you have any advice for someone who wants to see their own vision come to life?
Starting up is the hardest thing to do. It's less important to start perfect. It's more important you start now because only customers can tell you what to do next and how to improve yourself. To get that advice and lessons, you have to get started. Don't wait too long; you only are gonna get older. It's harder to start when you are old as start-up requires your physical stamina.