Caterer Spotlight: Sugoi JPN

Sugoi JPN marries Latin American fusions with Japanese flavours, resulting in an exciting combination of flavours from two very different cultures and producing an end result known as the Nori-Taco: a crispy seaweed tempura shell with sushi rice and Japanese Latin fillings.

Hi Felipe, thanks for catching up with us. So, tell us a little more about your background?

For more than fifteen years my wife Veronica and I have been developing Japanese restaurant concepts together, providing management, strategic planning, marketing and design. We have the knowledge and expertise to create and define restaurants, the brand positioning and expansion, from the initial idea through to the construction, start-up and beyond.

Everything started back in 1997; I was a commercial pilot when I fell in love at first sight with Veronica in a Sushi bar in Caracas-Venezuela. Veronica was working as a part time waitress while she was studying graphic design. To impress her, I decided to become a sushi encyclopaedia and visited her every week to show her my “sushi knowledge”, and my strategy worked! Today after 20 years together she is the love of my life, we have a sushi loving daughter and our life revolves around Japanese gastronomy. Some people know me as @Susherito, meaning the little sushi man in Spanish.

How did you come up with the concept for Sugoi JPN?

We were keen to create something different, unique, simple, but cool (which is what Sugoi means). The hospitality industry is aware that delivered food is an increasingly important feature of urban living, uptake is highest in the capital. Technology has been the catalyst, driving uptake via mobile platforms and digital marketing with full-service delivery platforms opening new channels.

As a result, we decided to bet on the dark delivery kitchens to try our crazy cool idea, and we found one in Bethnal Green, which we shared. The kitchen was located down an alley under a railway arch which was coincidental, considering our concept was inspired by Piss Alley (Tokyo).

We opened the business and the immediate reaction was not what we had hoped for. It took a while to get orders, with only a couple a day and although the feedback was very positive, we knew we had to invest in marketing to survive and I decided to quit my job in order to give the business my full attention.

So, we introduced ourselves to our friendly neighbours, one of which was Old Street Brewery. We shared some NoriTacos with them, and they shared some fantastic beer with us. There was a natural synergy and we just clicked.

They did not want to deal with chefs, kitchens, food, menus, and all the issues that come with back of house, so we took care of it for them. They had a kitchen and we had a restaurant floor. It was a win-win relationship and because we have the same vision, ethos and values, everything just flowed. In time, we did the same thing with Renegade London Wine and then Mother Kelly’s where we invested in a food truck to serve our unique NoriTacos direct to customers.

The delivery business represents a high % of our revenue, some of it comes from our street food “venues”, however third-party apps help us to reach new potential customers directly. Those customers then become regulars and loyal followers, helping us to spread the word and increase brand exposure.

How many fixed sites have you got now and what were the main obstacles of opening up new sites during Covid?

We currently have five kitchens across London including South Wimbledon, Chelsea, Stockwell, Shoreditch and Soho, with more underway. Launching the new sites during a pandemic certainly came with its challenges such as finding staff as well as delays and restrictions with suppliers. Locating the right areas was also a key consideration together with identifying demographics and changes in consumer behaviour, but with a willing and positive can-do attitude, it all proved possible.

What do you think the main challenges will be for food businesses as we come out of lockdown and beyond and what have you learnt most from Covid?

One thing we learned is that your business must have the capability to adapt to different situations and circumstances in order to survive. But above all, you must support your team and create a sense of solidarity and inclusiveness. It’s not just a challenge for the business but for the people too – we’re all in this together! I think the main challenge for most businesses will be to persevere and not only survive the inevitable recession we now find ourselves in, but be prepared for any further challenges that may lie ahead and continue to adapt accordingly.

Do you believe people’s mindsets have been changed since Covid with regards to how they choose to spend their money?

I do believe people’s mindsets have changed, or at least the seed has been sown that change is constant. We are all becoming more environmentally conscious, and the pandemic has certainly been the catalyst for that. But whilst we know we need to make lifestyle changes, we don’t necessarily know how or if the changes we’re making as individuals actually has a material impact. As a result, we need to keep watering that seed or the cost will be potentially catastrophic. For every challenge we face, I personally see an opportunity and firmly believe that, over time, we will see a positive change in consumer habits.

Sum up the independent food industry in three words?

Real, passionate and powerful.

What’s next for Sugoi?

We are expanding slowly but steadily and planning to end the year with 10 kitchens. We are starting to look at an international expansion and keep developing more brands like Japanified and Arepita Sliders with our project Under One kitchen.

When lockdown has completely ended, and you can travel freely – where are you most looking forward to going on a culinary trip?

We are very keen to visit Yucatan, Mexico and explore their culinary traditions and experience this fascinating part of the world.

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