How Sushi and More created a niche market in India: a conversation with Harry Hakuei Kosato 

Harry-Hakuei-Kosato

Harry Hakuei Kosato is a serial entrepreneur. He is a founder and managing director of Sushi and More, India’s largest sushi delivery service with outlets in Mumbai, Delhi, and Gurugram. Along with this, he is also the India representative and director of Kikkoman Corporation, the world’s leading manufacturer of soy sauce. Before starting his own sushi business, the former marketing manager of Dyson Tokyo, helped Four Seasons Hotel set up its pan-Asian restaurant. 

But he decided to follow a different path. He wanted to bring sushi out of the realms of premium hotels and restaurants, and introduce it to the larger Indian audience at an affordable price. The journey to setting up his business wasn’t without any challenges – right from sourcing the right fresh ingredients, to finding the right mix of people of operations, he had a lot to figure out.   

In Conversation With Harry Kosato, Founder and Managing Director, Sushi and More 

In an exclusive interview with The Restaurant Times, Harry Kosato, Founder and Managing Director of Sushi and More and wearer of a number of other hats, discusses how the sushi brand created a space for itself in the diverse market of India. 

TRT: It’s been quite some time since you have been in the F&B industry. What has been your experience like? What were the major challenges that you faced and key learnings?

Harry K.: There are two sides to this answer, 

  1. All of us enjoy great food 
  2. All of us enjoy a great experience

My definition of food is that it is the purest form of entertainment because it is not only nourishing but also gives you an opportunity to socialize with people. Being in the F&B industry, you get to serve people three times a day or more for 365 days. 

This F&B industry is fundamental to human existence and food brings along with it, in different ways, happiness to all of us. These days I am working out of Mumbai, India. And I think it is just the beginning for the F&B industry here as more than 1.4 billion people in India are eating food three times a day. The opportunity in India is threefold – i.  The scale is quite big here, ii. The variety of different cuisines that you can enjoy around India is diverse both in Indian cuisine and the evolving foreign cuisine, and iii. The sheer growth potential of India. 

As an F&B entrepreneur, I can say that India has immense potential and the sky’s the limit for us. We are just beginning to see an upward growth trend. In the last 15 years, the F&B industry in India has struggled and now for the first time, the growth curve is going up. And, it’s growing quite fast.

You can provide so much happiness to people through food as it’s such an integral part of a person’s life and it’s very much a part of Indian culture. I think it’s a very very exciting time for the Indian F&B industry.

TRT: Authentic local ingredients are a crucial part of any cuisine. You can’t imagine Japanese food without soya sauce, Italian food without cheese, and Indian cuisine without spices. What are the major factors that you keep in mind while choosing the right ingredients for your restaurant? 

Harry K.: I think as we have or as we are coming out of the pandemic, people have realized that life is very unpredictable but at the same time they have started seeking more and more authentic products that are good for their health. People are paying much more attention to living a healthy life.

Now, I have had my fair share of experiences with earthquakes. We had a tsunami back in 2011 in Japan and an earthquake in 1995. Natural calamities and other human-made disasters always happen. But I think, in the last two and a half years, we have learned to value our time. People understand that life is fragile and unfortunate things can happen at any time. 

Being in the F&B business means that we have to pay much more attention to what we serve our customers. We have to give our consumers the best products, for example, we developed Kikkoman soy sauce which is a naturally brewed all-purpose seasoning. It is being used in 100 countries and we are a $4.4 million business globally. 

Around 20-30 years ago, a lot of ingredients with synthetic materials were used. But the industry is seeing a shift both in developed and developing countries like India. 

People are using organic products that are pure and natural. Though it is easy and quick to make food with artificial ingredients, things that are actually good for you take time and need the labor of love. 

It is the very reason we have focused so much on creating our Kikkoman soya sauce. It is an integral ingredient of sushi, but we have tried to customize it for the needs of Indians and their food palette. The Kikkoman soya sauce can be used in anything whether it’s biryani, khichdi, or samosas. 

So far we have received good feedback on it. Though people get surprised initially, they love it for its being all-purpose, authentic, pure, and natural. Both our global and India team are focused on generating more awareness around using natural and pure ingredients and delivering delicious experiences. 

TRT: People today are more open to exploring new food and unique flavors. That said, it does require creating some awareness about these unique food items. What were the challenges you faced when you started your Sushi business here and how did you overcome them? 

Harry K.: 15 years ago, a lot of my friends from Japan, New York, and London advised me against launching the Sushi business in India saying nobody was going to eat it in India. It was considered a poor country with a lot of issues with hygiene, transportation, unavailability of ingredients, and untrained staff. The idea of a Sushi business in India seemed impossible. 

However, after 15 years, I can easily say that it is the most trending new cuisine in India. Whether you go to a small restaurant or a large-sized restaurant that serves pan-Asian cuisine, you will find sushi. There are restaurants, I know, that used to serve Indian food mainly – they too have sushi on their menu. Besides this, there are some key players who are serving purely Japanese food. These kinds of businesses are also growing here. 

Considering this, there is a lot more potential for the F&B industry in India now than it was 15 years ago. I think what you have to realize is that sushi is global cuisine. Global cuisines find their way into any city or in any country at the right time. It’s all about the good taste. Once the taste is adopted by a few people, it is only a matter of time before more people start trying it. 

Earlier, a select set of people used to travel to Paris, Singapore, or New York to have an authentic sushi experience. But in the last 15 years, an increasing number of people have traveled overseas and tried newer foods like sushi. It is important to notice that it’s all about the taste. It is only a matter of time before a new cuisine will come to India. 

People like healthy, simple, and tasty food, and sushi is light and healthy. It’s the reason why it’s trending. We have 60-70% of our customers that repeat their orders. It means that the cuisine is really popular here.

TRT: ‘Sushi and more’ is India’s largest independently running Japanese food delivery and takeaway business. Could you share some insights on what it took to achieve success and consistency based on your personal experiences?

Harry K.: I am not too sure that we are successful yet. My definition of success is a little bit different. First, I think about success in the long term. It is not a one-year, three years, or five years game. I am talking about decades here – ten, twenty, and thirty years. Second, I think success is always whether what you say and what you do is aligned. I believe we are headed in the right direction because we are delivering what we want to deliver and then the customers are accepting that. Third, I think it’s all about making sure that we really fulfill our potential. Since there’s a lot more potential for growth in India, I feel this is just the beginning for us. 

When I look at the last 15 years, 5 years went into preparation, and the next 10 years were about running the business. It had a lot of ups and downs and I have learned that there are two important things while running a business – i. Your people who are running the business, ii. The operations. When I say this, I mean you need marketing, branding, and PR but if you don’t have a team of the right people and the right processes for the operations, you don’t really have a business. 

Obviously, the ingredients, menu, packaging, delivery, and marketing are really important things but at the core of any F&B business are its people and operations. 

You can rely on your people to run the systems and the people rely on the systems. Without both of these in place, you cannot have a sustainable and growing business.

Talking about our success, I don’t consider ourselves successful yet. I think there’s more to achieve in the next 10-20 years. It’s just the beginning for us. So, from my point of view, ‘Sushi and more’ has more to go in India. And, I think staying consistent on our growth path comes from making sure that the people and the systems are in harmony. That is the only way I think real F&B businesses operate. These are the two key things that you have to get right.

TRT: You mentioned briefly the importance of social media for F&B businesses. Can you share more thoughts on this?

Harry K.: I think in the last 5 years there has been this huge growth in social media. In fact, I myself am very much on social media and actively learning a lot. But at the same time, I am seeing a little bit of a slow down in recent times. For example, there’s a constant need to increase followers but there are very few genuine followers. 

Around 15 years ago, Facebook was the most popular platform but now it is Instagram. But in the future, we might see another channel. What I am trying to say is that Instagram is the most preferred mode of social media communication right now but in the future, there might be something else you cannot imagine now.

That’s life! You cannot imagine things like the internet, running water, etc. It is difficult to know what’s going to happen next. Social media is a big thing right now, and it’s extremely important. On a personal level, I believe too much of anything is bad and you do need a social media detox every now and then. From a business perspective, I think it is important for businesses to have their presence on these channels. But the most important part of a business is its people and operations that make the product right. Getting them right is much more important than social media because you can promise a lot on social media but if the food you make doesn’t come out good, there’s no use in it. Social media is important but you should not get carried away with it.

TRT: What’s your brand’s vision for the future? And, would you like to share any advice for all our budding restaurateurs, and sushi makers? 

Harry K.: We recently had a team retreat wherein we talked about the past and the future of the company. Though I am thinking in decades for the business, we tell our people to concentrate on the food they’re making today. It’s the most important thing to focus on the goal while staying in the present. It’s very easy to say to the staff that I want to open 1000 stores in another 20 years. But is that the goal we should be chasing? Why are we chasing a number? 

Instead, I want our people to think about what they’re going to do today. I want them to think about whether the order they’re going to deliver is going to spread happiness to the customer. This is for every single order. 

As far as advice to the people who want to join this industry or who are just recently starting up is concerned, based on my personal experience, I would suggest you focus on only three things – enjoy, enjoy, and enjoy.

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