Mayumi Kobayashi has been the general manager of the Michelin-recognized MIFUNE and of the Michelin-starred AMANE sushi for five years. As a woman in a leadership position, she prides herself on collaborating in all aspects of restaurant management with the chefs.
This month, Mayumi Kobayashi will begin a new journey at Yoshino New York with legendary chef Tadashi Yoshida with the goal of making Yoshino the best restaurant in New York. Total Food Service caught up with Kobayashi to discuss his inspirations, experiences and aspirations.
How do you handle the complexities of multiple restaurants?
Sushi Amane is tucked away inside Mifune on another floor, so having two restaurants in one location thankfully makes the logistics and complexities much more streamlined. There are a lot of positives to running a multi-unit operation in one location, especially now with the pandemic, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we started to see more of this type of restaurant operating structure there. ‘coming.
Any lessons learned from previous jobs that you have brought to the culture of Mifune/Sushi Amane?
I worked for a video game company, notorious for its toxic work culture. The biggest lesson I learned there was how not to treat your employees. The higher-ups saw the employees as “privileged” to work there, so they treated them terribly. Needless to say, there was a very high turnover of staff there.
At another company I worked for, I was blessed with the most wonderful boss who showed her gratitude and respected her employees. She created an inclusive work culture that made everyone feel valued and important, motivating the team to do great work. She taught me what type of leader and company culture to look for. I will be eternally grateful to her because she still inspires me today.
How does being a woman in management make a difference in the industry?
Times are changing, but the restaurant industry is still very male-dominated, especially Japanese restaurants. Female GMs in Japanese restaurants are rare, so I deal with misconceptions and sexism quite regularly. When a salesperson, especially a Japanese salesperson, comes to our restaurant to introduce their products or services, they address the male staff directly and completely ignore me. It doesn’t even occur to them that the decision maker or the CEO could be a woman. When they realize I’m the GM, I suddenly appear in their line of sight. It’s disheartening, but I’m sure every woman has experienced something similar in every industry. This is exactly why I think the representation of women in leadership positions is important, not just in the restaurant industry.
Who were/are your mentors?
The best and worst bosses from my previous jobs. Both women, but the opposite of how they ran the business and treated staff and employees. None of them know they are my mentors, but they definitely shaped the manager I am now.
What do you see for yourself and your restaurants?
Our goal is to keep innovating, come up with something interesting, and have fun in the process. As the chefs at Mifune and Sushi Amane continue to hone their craftsmanship and artistry, my job is to create and grow a platform for them to better deliver and pass that on to customers. Dining out should be a joyful experience for customers and that’s what we always aim for, but I think it should also be a joyful and fulfilling experience for ourselves. No two days are the same in the restaurant industry, so my mindset is to do my best to make every day a great day for everyone.
What business systems and vendors, equipment do you rely on for your operations?
We use the same tools as any restaurant, but it worries me that our industrial equipment has become so heavily dependent on a stable internet connection. Our whole neighborhood had intermittent internet service one day and running the restaurant smoothly was definitely a challenge!
The business has changed during COVID, talk about the changes you’ve seen and going forward, what do you think it will look like? What does it take to fully recover?
For the restaurant industry to recover as a whole, we need domestic and overseas tourism to return to pre-pandemic levels and grow from there. With working from home becoming more and more the norm, the growth of tourism is particularly important to fill this void. We also need crime to go down, so people feel safer in their surroundings to go out and dine more. New York has always been the city that never sleeps, but that vibrancy has yet to
come back completely.
Are you having difficulty finding staff? What do you think of our position in the industry and what have you done to find the work staff that will be successful? Any tips to share?
It’s always a challenge to find new employees, but luckily we were able to rehire a lot of our pre-closure staff as terms were lifted and business volume increased at the same time. I understand that employee retention is difficult in our industry, but it doesn’t have to be. Treat your employees well and pay them a fair and decent wage. We are constantly adjusting our business model to ensure the sustainability of the business and to cope with rising costs at the same time.
What about the supply chain that has affected your operations and your purchasing, your menus?
Prior to the pandemic, Mifune offered both an a la carte menu and a set tasting menu that changed seasonally. However, the pandemic has created unprecedented supply chain disruption.
To counter the wildly fluctuating market prices and unstable supply of ingredients when the shutdown was lifted, we quickly settled on an omakase tasting menu that changed weekly, sometimes daily depending on market availability, and whatever be the inspiration that struck our chefs that day at the farmer’s market.
This business model continues to this day, which has given co-executive chefs Tomohiro Urata and Yuu Shimano tremendous flexibility, their creativity and skills on full display every day. Although the term “omakase” is closely associated with sushi in the United States, it simply means “chef’s choice” in Japanese and is not tied to a type of cuisine, which in Mifune’s case is Franco-Japanese. modern.
Now we only have one menu option: an 8-course omakase tasting menu for $125 with an optional $40 upgrade.
What might people be underestimating about the operations of Michelin-recognized/Michelin-starred restaurants?
With or without Michelin recognition, running a restaurant is no small feat. Be kind to your front line workers and know that we are here because we want to make your dining experience great and make you happy. We don’t take it for granted that you spend your hard-earned money with us, especially in these uncertain times, and please know that we appreciate that.
What are 3 tips you can share about working behind the scenes of
Starred and recognized restaurants?
I take a very collaborative approach with all aspects of restaurant management. I have always approached all the chefs I have worked with, as partners and equals instead of their superior. Chefs are artists and as Managing Director I am here to help support their vision and do my best to let their talent flourish in this turbulent industry. I don’t know if this is the right method, but it was the method that worked the best for me.
Be happy and spread good vibes is my mantra. Sprinkle wit and humor into the conversation wherever you can to make your staff/customers smile and laugh. Always keep in mind that your actions can make or break your colleagues’ day.
Say “hello” to each staff member when you see them and say “thank you, see you tomorrow” to your staff every night! It is the simplest and smallest thing, but it is very
important for me.
Would you like to mention the name of the restaurant you are moving to?
I recently had the opportunity to join Yoshino New York as General Manager and immediately felt it was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. The opportunity to work with legendary chef Tadashi Yoshida, whose ambition is to make Yoshino New York the best sushi restaurant not only in New York, but in the world, is a unique opportunity, and I am truly honored to have the chance to pursue this dream with him.
To learn more about Mifune, visit their website
To learn more about Sushi Amane, visit their website