Mayumi Kobayashi has been the General Manager of Michelin-recognized MIFUNE and Michelin-starred sushi AMANE for five years. As a woman in a managerial position, she prides herself in being collaborative in all aspects of running the restaurant with the chefs.
This month, Mayumi Kobayashi will begin a new journey at Yoshino New York with legendary Chef Tadashi Yoshida with the goal to make the Yoshino the top restaurant in New York. Total Food Service caught up with Kobayashi to discuss her inspirations, experiences, and aspirations.
How do you manage the complexities of the multiple restaurants?
Sushi Amane is tucked away inside Mifune on another floor, so having two restaurants in one location make the logistics and complexities much more streamlined thankfully. There are a lot of positive aspects to running a multi-unit operation in one location, especially now with the pandemic, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see more of this type of restaurant operation structure in the future.
Lessons learned from prior jobs that you’ve brought to the culture at Mifune/Sushi Amane?
I used to work for a video game company, famous for their 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 the employees terribly. Needless to say, there was a very high staff turnaround there.
At another company I worked for, I was fortunate to have 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, thus motivating the team to do great work. She taught me what kind of leader and company culture I should strive for. I will be forever grateful to her as she inspires me to this day.
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 at Japanese restaurants are few and far between, so I deal with preconceived notions and sexism fairly regularly. When a sales rep, especially a Japanese sales rep, comes to our restaurant to pitch their products or services, they go straight to the male staff and completely ignore me. It doesn’t even occur to them the decision maker or GM could be a woman. When they realize I’m the GM, I suddenly appear in their line of vision. It’s disheartening, but I’m sure every woman has experienced something similar to this in every industry. That’s exactly why I believe female representation in management positions matter, not just in the restaurant industry.
Who were/are your mentors?
The best and worst bosses from my previous jobs. Both women, but polar opposite of how they ran the company and treated the staff and employees. Neither of them knows they are my mentors, but they definitely shaped the manager I am now.
What do you see ahead for yourself and your restaurants?
Our goal is to continue innovating, deliver something that is engaging, and have fun ourselves in the process. As the Chefs at Mifune and Sushi Amane continue to hone their craft and artistry, my job is to create and expand a platform for them to better deliver and convey that to customers. Dining out should be a joyful experience for the customers and that is what we always aim for, but I believe it should be a joyful and fulfilling experience for ourselves as well. 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 are the business systems and vendors, equipment that you rely on for operations?
We use the same tools as any restaurant, but it does worry me that our industry equipment has become so heavily reliant on a stable internet connection. Our entire 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 that you’ve seen and going forward, what do you expect that to look like? What is needed to completely recover?
For the restaurant industry to recover as a whole, we need both domestic and foreign tourism to return to pre-pandemic levels and grow from there. With work-from-home becoming more the norm now, tourism growth is especially important to fill that void. We also need crime to go down, so the locals 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
Are you having difficulty finding staff? What are your thoughts in terms of where we are in the industry and what have you done to find the work staff to be successful? Tips to share?
It is always a challenge finding new staff, but thankfully we were able to rehire many of our staff from before the shutdown as the mandates lifted and business volume grew along with it. I understand staff retention is hard in our industry, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Treat your employees well and pay them a fair, livable wage. We are constantly tweaking our business model to keep the business sustainable and to also keep up with rising costs at the same time.
What about the supply chain has affected your operations and purchasing, menus?
Pre-pandemic, Mifune had both an a la carte menu and a set tasting menu that changed seasonally. However, the pandemic created an unprecedented supply chain disruption.
To counter the wildly fluctuating market prices and unstable supply of ingredients when the shutdown was lifted, we quickly pivoted to an omakase tasting menu that changed weekly, sometimes daily based on market availability, and whatever inspiration struck our Chefs that day at the farmer’s market.
This business model continues to this day, and this has given Co-Executive Chefs Tomohiro Urata and Yuu Shimano such extraordinary flexibility, their creativity and skills are on full display every day. Although the term “omakase” is closely associated with sushi in the US, it just means “Chef’s Choice” in Japanese and is not bound to one type of cuisine, which in Mifune’s case is Modern French-Japanese.
Now, we only have one menu option: A $125 8-course omakase tasting menu with an optional $40 upgrade.
What might people underestimate about the operations at Michelin recognized/starred restaurants?
With or without Michelin recognition, running a restaurant is not an easy task. Please be kind to your front-line workers and know we are here because we want to make your dining experience extraordinary and make you happy. We do not take for granted you are spending your hard-earned money with us, especially in these uncertain times, and please know we are grateful for it.
What are 3 tips you can share about working behind the scenes in
Michelin-starred and recognized restaurants?
I take a very collaborative approach with all aspects of running the restaurant. I have always approached all the Chefs who I have worked with, as partners and equals instead of their superior. Chefs are artists and as GM, I am here to help support their vision and do my best to let their talent flourish in this turbulent industry. I’m not sure if that’s the correct way, but it’s the method that has worked best for me.
Be happy and spread good vibes is my mantra. Sprinkle wit and humor in the conversation wherever you can to make your staff/customers smile and laugh. Always be mindful your actions have the ability to make or break your coworkers’ day.
Say “good morning” to every staff member when you see them, and say “thank you, see you tomorrow” to your staff every night! It’s the simplest and tiniest thing, but it’s very
important to me.
Would you like to mention the name of the restaurant you’ll be moving to?
I have recently been given the opportunity to join Yoshino New York as General Manager and instantly felt this was an opportunity I cannot refuse. The opportunity to work with the legendary Chef Tadashi Yoshida, whose ambition is to make Yoshino New York the top sushi restaurant, not only in New York, but the world, is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I am truly honored to have the chance to chase that dream with him.
To learn more about Mifune, visit their website
To learn more about Sushi Amane, visit their website