Authority Magazine: Tomo Takahashi: Kaizen
There is a saying in Japan, “kaizen”, which basically means always looking for improvement. I think success is something to strive for, but the target should continuously be moving or pushing you further. To give you some evidence of this mindset, at my robatayaki concept, Robata JINYA, we have the Daruma between a series of ceramic masks on display over the bar. Traditionally in Japan, after one year of “success”, the face receives hand-painted eyes as a symbol of achievement. Even after eight busy and profitable years, Daruma remain “blind” at my restaurant. Why? Because simply — Kaizen. We can always strive for more.
I had the pleasure to interview Tomo Takahashi the CEO/Founder of JINYA Ramen Bar. Born to a successful restaurateur in Japan, JINYA Holdings CEO Tomo Takahashi proved his restaurant prowess in Tokyo long before opening JINYA Ramen Bar’s first U.S. location in Studio City, Calif. and Robata JINYA Hollywood in 2010. Takahashi spent his childhood at his family’s robatayaki concept in Ehime, Japan, where he immersed himself in traditional Japanese cooking methods and honed his hospitality management skills. In 2000, Takahashi branched out on his own, opening his first JINYA in Tokyo, followed by six additional restaurants between 2002–2008. When selecting the name of his establishments, Takahashi gravitated to JINYA as it refers to the historical estate of the samurai and community meeting point. JINYA embodies the ideals of all of Tomonori’s restaurants, intended to be a cozy, neighborhood spot for lively, social gatherings. Two years later, Takahashi fulfilled his life-long dream of honoring his family’s legacy and founded JINYA Holdings on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Under that umbrella, he developed two concepts: Robata JINYA Hollywood, an elevated, izakaya-style restaurant specializing in robatayaki, and JINYA Ramen Bar, a ramen shop offering authentic cuisine in modern, stylish surroundings. Following his success in Los Angeles and realizing the need for quality ramen across the country, Takahashi began franchising JINYA Ramen Bar to major cities across the United States and Canada. The concept now operates more than 30 locations with plans to reach 250 by 2023.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What inspired you to become a chef (or restauranteur)?
My father, a lifelong chef, had a Kappou-style restaurant as well as a robata restaurant in my hometown of Ehime, Japan. However, he had to close the latter after a couple years to care for my younger brother, who was injured in a bike accident. During elementary school, I ate at his robata restaurant every day and have vivid memories of how happy the guests looked.
Later, when I was at university in Tokyo, I frequently dined out with my friends and continued to observe how a simple yet delicious meal could bestow happiness upon people, even in life’s hardest and most stressful times.
It was always a dream to reopen my father’s robata restaurant, honoring his legacy and bringing joy to people through the medium of food.
What has your journey been like since first stepping foot in a kitchen?
It’s been a whirlwind and a constant learning process. I opened my first restaurant, Sabakuro in Tokyo, when I was 31 years old, followed by six other restaurants within seven years. While Japan will always be my home, it’s always been my dream to bring my penchant for Japanese food to the United States. Because I knew I was bringing a new restaurant concept and cuisine to the United States, I made countless annual visits to Los Angeles looking for the perfect place and time to open