Growing up as a Japanese American, the differences of opinion regarding various subjects and current events across different generations intrigued me. These differences in opinion would lead to thoughtful insight and lessons learned from my grandparent’s nisei generation, as well as intense arguments with my parents, the sansei generation.
Whether it is lessons to be learned or passionate debates, I think that we all can gain something from a new perspective. This series looks to offer perspective through the lens of three different generations of Japanese Americans concerning one topic. April’s topic is “Business,” and we have 3 generations from the Hirose family of Little Tokyo's own Azay weighing in: Representing the Shin-Issei perspective we have Chef Akira Hirose, for the Sansei generation, Chef Akira's wife, Jo Anne "Jojo" Hirose, and for us Yonsei folk, their son, Philip Hirose. If you know Auntie Jojo, she always has a lot to say. Now let's see if it runs in the family!
What is your name? Age (decade is fine. IE 20s, 30s, 40s)? Generation?
Shin-Issei: Akira Hirose, 67, Shin-issei
Sansei: Jo Ann Hirose, 60s (which is the new 40s), Sansei
Yonsei: Philip. 30s. Shin-Nisei and Yonsei
What business do you own/manage/work-at?
Shin-Issei: Restaurant business Chef/Owner at Azay
Sansei: Co-manage at Azay
Yonsei: My family has a restaurant (Azay) and I work in film production.
How long has your business been around and where are you located? (tell us a little history about the business)
Shin-Issei: Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. Azay Restaurant is now 2.5 years old and is located on 1st street near Onitsuka St.
Sansei: We are in the building that my father, Philip’s grandfather, and Akira’s father-in-law used to own that now belongs to our family’s sansei generation.
Yonsei: This restaurant has been in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles since September of 2019. Previously, my parents had a restaurant in Pasadena, Maison Akira, since 1998. They also ran a restaurant in Kyoto with the same name "Azay". My father also worked at other restaurant throughout his life.
What are your responsibilities in the business?
Shin-Issei: My responsibilities are to create the menu, manage the kitchen, and cook.
Sansei: I have too many, I don’t know. I’ll try to condense it: As co-management I share the accounting responsibilities. I do the accounts payable and the non-IT things. I take care of the business permitting. At the restaurant, I also work as a night server, sub on the weekends, and help with catering.
Yonsei: I’m involved with everything but the actual cooking. This includes menu creation, programming, beverage program, service and the restaurant’s role in Little Tokyo.
Did you always want to be part of this kind of business?
Shin-Issei: Yes, I wanted to always be a cook from a young age (grammar school) and later on I wanted to own my own restaurant.
Sansei: No, I only wanted to eat and taste food and to do a little of the shopping for the business.
Yonsei: I did. I think it’s very rewarding and hospitality is a specialty within our family.
When you were a kid, what kind of business was your dream business to own?
Shin-Issei: Never changed. Since I was 10 years old I wanted to be a chef.
Sansei: I did not have a dream until I was a big kid. At 24 years old, while working at L’orangerie, I started to dream of owning a restaurant. Working there was like working in a dream.
Yonsei: When I was in high school, the idea was to open a satellite accounting office of my grandfather’s accounting firm in Kyoto. That idea ended after a couple of accounting gigs during college.
How would you define a successful business?
Shin-Issei: When the customers, employees, community, and everyone are happy with the business.
Sansei: I would consider a successful business as a business that a lot of people want to go to is what
Yonsei: A successful business is one that inspires people to be the best version of themselves.
What are some challenges of running your business?
Shin-Issei: At my age, being healthy. You can’t do anything if you’re not healthy. Not only physical health, but mental health too. I try not to overwork at my age, but it’s hard.
Nisei: Besides family dynamics?!?... (just kidding, not kidding). Trying to stay afloat during the pandemic was extremely difficult. Also while I run the books, keeping the chef under a budget is very difficult. He always wants top quality ingredients while I want to keep the doors open, but somehow we manage.
Yonsei: Society does not value culinary arts nor its relationship with labor. There are also multigenerational challenges that include communication, pre-existing relationships, and differing experiences/ideals.
Did you train to run your business? Where? and can you describe your training?
Shin-Issei: I studied in a business class called Seiwajyuku by Mr. Kazuo Inamori of Kyoto Ceramic and KDDI in Los Angeles. I was part of a business study club for 10 years. I also learned to cook in France for 8 years from the late Joel Robuchon. I am still learning through YouTube. Currently, I am learning Filipino food. Today you can learn anything by YouTube.
Sansei: My whole training was at L’orangerie when I worked there. Being in the L’orangerie kitchen, I saw how the restaurant was managed and what it took to run a restaurant.
Yonsei: I didn’t, at least not in the traditional sense. My business education came from college, cultural and life education from my upbringing through family, friends and community.
Beyond the products/services you sell, what is the core philosophy behind your business?
Shin-Issei: To create value for everyone involved, the employees, the customers, and the community.
Sansei: To cultivate an environment of growth within the business, growth of the employees in their career, growth of the customers’ interest in French and Japanese food, and for growth within the little Tokyo community.
Yonsei: We haven’t figured this one out yet but we should be getting to it soon. It would probably have something to do with honoring the past and envisioning a future free from the harms that exist today
If you knew it would never fail, what business would you want to start today?
Shin-Issei: A cooking school For kids and the next generation of cooks. I want to do a cooking class because you can learn from a young age and I’ve hit a turning point to where I want to pass my knowledge onto other people.
Sansei: It’s kind of a job instead of a business, but I would want to be a restaurant critic or become a consultant for restaurant openings.
Yonsei: I would want to start a co-operative with friends and family where we can prioritize people over profits.
What makes your business unique from other ones in the same industry?
Shin-Issei: We have Japanese and French food. No fusion involved. No restaurant does those types of cooking especially in our location.
Sansei: We offer a community base for community activities. We are almost like a testing spot for community activities. For example there was the brew-ha-ha community event/scavenger hunt. We offer an opportunity to experiment with new community events. We have hosted cooking classes in our restaurant. We combine different arts in our space such as live music, book readings, and culinary experiences.
Yonsei: Nothing other than the food we serve and our location being in Little Tokyo. Our peers are multigenerational family owned restaurant’s that champion the community they’re in. There is so much beauty in the family owned restaurant and we hope to honor that.
If you could collaborate with another business (any business that exists) who would you collaborate with and what would be your product?
Shin-Issei: I would want to collaborate with young chefs to showcase their talent and help them to get a start.
Sansei: I would want to collaborate with Kimiko who is the artist that created our logo. She is a children’s book artist and author. I would want to collaborate with her on cook books or stories of food for kids.
Yonsei: I don’t know what the product would be but I would love to collaborate with Wing on Wo & Co in New York’s Chinatown. Maybe it will be a program of some sort.
What responsibilities does a business have to its community in which it resides?
Shin-Issei: Clear communication with other community members. They should support the community that they are involved in. I think this is big.
Nisei: The responsibility is to be active and participate in the community in which they reside and get to know and support other businesses and be a good neighbor. I feel that businesses not only need to support the community, but they should be present in the community and attend community events. Businesses also need to be more amenable and understanding of differing opinions within the community and listen to each other and figure out a way to compromise and come to solutions that work for the greater good of the community. We all should have the same goals of bettering the community.
Yonsei: A business has the responsibility to serve the needs of the existing community in which it resides. If it’s not, it is gentrifying that community.
If you had to give advice to a future aspiring business owner what would it be?
Shin-Issei: Never forget to benefit others, that is the only way to build a sustainable business.
Sansei: Think twice before you make the jump…. Just kidding. But be sure to keep your relationship with your parents good because you never know how much help you’re going to need from them in your business. Also, be sure to keep your relationship with your kids good because you never know how much help you’ll need from them in your business.
Yonsei: Learn about the community that you’d like to exist in. Engage and listen to the people that are there because you are a guest and entering a space with a rich history.