Iori Kataoka owner of Yuwa Japanese Cuisine, talks about the challenges of doing business in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Task Force: Take us through your businesses’ journey so far.

Iori Kataoka: When we first heard about the increase of coronavirus cases, we were busy with a full restaurant. But once the news broke and people were starting to realize the impact on Vancouver, we knew business was in trouble right away.

TF: What steps have you taken to mitigate the impact of COVID-19?

IK: Once we had to close our doors for dine in, we thought about what we needed to do. We opted to put all our efforts into ensuring we could still run our business through a takeout and delivery model. We’ve taken part in both the wage subsidy to keep our employees on staff, as well as the Canada Emergency Business Account, but the rent subsidy program fell short for us.

All our decisions have worked very well for us so far. I’d say the only thing I wish we would have done was take a small break between closing the doors for dine-in and re-opening for takeout and delivery. It’s been quite hard on all of us and I feel like we now deserve a bit of a vacation!

TF: Have you found ways to innovate or pivot your business to meet new demands?

IK: We decided to offer direct delivery instead of only going with third-party delivery services. This way, the money went right back into the restaurant and we get to personally deliver food which allows us to keep in touch with our new and loyal guests – at a safe distance, of course. 

TF: Can you tell us about employee morale?

IK: We kept a very open line of communication with our staff over the phone and made it a priority to discuss and work out any concerns and issues they might have had.

TF: Tell us how you managed your restart plans.

IK: We’re still open for delivery and takeout and look forward to welcoming diners when we’re ready to receive them. We know other restaurants have added a COVID-19 surcharge to their menus, but we’ve opted not to do this. We also no longer carry single use plastic products, and have instead transitioned to cardboard takeout containers.

TF: What was your biggest concern when it came to restarting your business?

IK: One of the largest concerns I have is permanently losing 1/3 of our staff, as they had all gone back to their home countries. This was one of the biggest hurdles for us, as we can only operate at 50 per cent capacity at this point because we’re understaffed.

We also waited one month longer than we needed to, when it came provincial health orders allowing dine-in services again. We wanted to be sure that it was safe for our guests to come back and dine at Yuwa without worrying if it was too early, and we wanted to make sure we were going above and beyond with our safety measures. When the number of infected people continued to drop, we decided to re-open with caution.

TF: What’s the ‘new normal’ for your business?

IK: We’ve made a few significant changes including offering paper napkins, disposable chopsticks, and staff will also be wearing masks. Guests will be invited to put their unfinished food into containers by themselves and there will be less interaction from servers. We’re also asking for phone numbers from walk-in guests.

At this point, we’re staying flexible. It’s so hard to look into the future right now as things change so quickly! I’m sure the changes we’ve implemented will be around until all COVID restrictions have lifted.