Japanese tests market for food in streets of Cebu
Every day at 11 a.m., except Sunday, Go Morita goes to Cebu I.T. Park in Barangay Lahug, Cebu City, carrying two orange coolers which he puts under one of the trees lining the sidewalk.
“Go Go Tokyo” reads the whiteboard he holds in his hands, announcing the day’s menu.
Morita, 28 and a Japanese tourist, is not your typical ambulant vendor. He holds a master’s degree in business administration at Hosei University in Tokyo.
Vending in the streets, he says, is his way of testing his market. He plans to put up a food stall in Cebu City offering Japanese dishes at affordable prices.
For his street experiment, he sells tonkatsu sandwiches and rice balls.
“Filipinos like Japanese food,” Morita says. “I want to sell affordable Japanese food that tastes very good.”
The streets, he adds, are “a good place to start” a business because it doesn’t require a big investment. Japanese restaurants in Cebu, he says, are “so expensive.”
Morita dreamt of having his own business eight years ago, but his parents discouraged him because they wanted him to work in a company. His father is employed in a semiconductor developer in Okinawa, Japan, while his mother keeps the house.
The obedient son shelved his dream. For four years, he sold franchises of Japanese restaurants, which gave him opportunities to meet chief executive officers of many companies that all the more rekindled his desire to start one.
Morita decided to quit his job and took up a master’s degree in business administration at Hosei to know more about the nature of business. He finished the course in March 2014 but chose to begin a business of his own outside of Japan.
He traveled to China, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and other countries in Asia. When he landed in Cebu, he found that the people can speak good English and the economy is improving.
Morita liked what he saw: Cebuanos love eating rice and fried food, as well as Japanese dishes.
When he returned on Oct. 11, 2014, he rented a small apartment on A.S. Fortuna Street in Mandaue City. With P25,000, he bought cooking utensils, ingredients and coolers. He was all set.
At first, he made 70 tonkatsu (breaded fried meat) sandwiches and 40 rice balls or onigiri. The sandwich sells at P40 and the rice ball, P25.
He uses pork or chicken, slices of cabbage, mustard and homemade sauce in his sandwiches. The rice ball is made of a half-cup Japanese rice mixed with shichimi togarashi, Japanese seven spice, red pepper, seaweed, sesame seeds and mentaiko or fish eggs.
The recipe, Morita says, is inspired by his mother’s “very delicious” cooking. He learned to make tonkatsu sandwich and rice ball from her.
“Since, I was able to work at a restaurant before, I tried to cook tonkatsu and rice ball many times until I made my own recipe,” he says.
Morita decided to sell on the sidewalk near the entrance of Cebu IT Park because of the traffic of people.
Communication was initially a problem because he could not speak English very well. So he allowed the food to do the talking for him.
He says he always asks for feedback from customers so he can improve and adjust the taste to suit their palate.
The enterprising foreigner has been keeping a tight schedule for almost five months, peddling Mondays to Saturdays.
He wakes up at 1 a.m. to start preparing the food until 10 a.m. He takes a cab from his home to Cebu IT Park and sells at 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. He later goes to the supermarket to buy the ingredients for the next day’s menu. He sleeps by 7 p.m.
Selling has twin benefits–he earns money and learns how to speak English. On Sundays, he takes a break to study the language.
Despite working for almost 16 hours daily, Morita remains fired up and focused on his dream–owning his own restaurant.
“I am reminded of what my parents used to tell me that to reach for my dream, I have to work hard for it in order to earn it,” he said.
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