Story of CICADA
Relocating a popular restaurant just may be – for a restaurant owner such as myself – a bigger challenge than creating a popular restaurant from scratch. It is a gamble, and you are relying only on your own intuition to pick the winner. The restaurant owner must come to terms with his own anxiety and mixed feelings revolving around attachment to the original location, the connection with local customers who have been supportive since day one, and lingering doubts about the draw of the new location.
I opened CICADA Minami-Azabu in 2003. I was 31 years old and it was the first restaurant I opened in an urban area, away from Tennozu. At the time, neighboring private restaurant owners voiced concerns about CICADA’s viability, but the last ten years have proven them wrong. We were able to attract many regular customers and supporters, as well as develop the staff that now supports our company. It is no exaggeration to say that without CICADA Minami-Azabu we would not be here today. Personally, it is a very important restaurant for me – it is where I matured and spent my 30’s. However, our lease would be up in the spring of 2013, and we knew it would be very difficult to renew it. We were faced with an uncertain future for our restaurant and its ever-growing base of customers.
It was then we came to a turning point. In January of 2012, we had just opened IVY PLACE and we were still very busy. I received a phone call from the owner of a certain building, whom I had met previously when presenting a proposal for a new eatery. He invited me to pitch a new restaurant proposal for his building, but there was only a week to prepare. With all I had on my plate with my new place, I didn’t have the time to draw up a business plan and budget, much less the manpower – or brain power – to come up with a new concept for a big restaurant by the deadline. After meeting with the man and hearing his invitation, I went walking through the business district. As the bright winter sunshine washed over me, I realized that a proposal to relocate CICADA was my only option. If the owner had called me even a month or two earlier, I would have been too heavily involved with opening IVY PLACE to even give a presentation. Also, in the past ten years the facilities at my Minami-Azabu restaurant were falling apart, and would be quite expensive to update. With the Nishi-Azabu market losing its momentum, the cost might not be worth it. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like perfect timing. To ensure the future success of my restaurant, it was the right time to relocate. Luckily, our proposal was accepted, and we were able to move forward with the relocation.
CICADA is moving to a 50-year old building built by a famous Japanese architect. Its original purpose was to provide living space for the employees of the owner’s company. Despite the location being only one minute walk from the Omotesando station, it is like an oasis. It’s a mansion with a large garden and swimming pool – a wonderful, creatively stimulating space. When I first saw it, an image immediately came to my mind of a resort-like restaurant in the south with a “colonial” theme mixed with the warmth of Minami-Azabu. The renovations proved challenging at every turn, but the reward will be well worth it. Unlike our previous projects, such as when we became a tenant in Daikanyama, we are not just one eatery among many. By opening a restaurant, bakery and café all in one central location, we have the opportunity to have a big impact on the town and everyone who lives here.
Nonetheless, as the relocation draws near, I am not without anxiety. Many people ask, “why are you relocating?" And the healthy draw of customers to the present CICADA always makes me think about the amount of business I will see at the new location. Still, I must be confident in my decision. I have worked my hardest to make sure that my customers think the new restaurant is even better, and never say “we miss the old place.” Our new building is owned by a historic company founded in the Meiji Era, and I’ve learned that my great-great-grandfather on my mother’s side was one of their founding members. In this new location that I seemed to be linked to by fate, I am determined to start a new chapter with my staff and loyal customers.