Jiro the Sushi Chef and The Art of Entrepreneurship

“Shokunin” literally means “craftsman” or “artisan” in Japanese. The deeper meaning is an artist who has a sense of social obligation to master their profession for the well being of their fellow man. One such artist is the 85 year old, 3 star Michelin winner, and master sushi chef, Jiro Ono.

Jiro is the owner of an inauspicious sushi restaurant called Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo, Japan. Diners can only get into the eat there by reservation only, and only seats about 10 people at the most. Sukiyabashi only serves one thing and one thing only: sushi. No tempura, no teriyaki chicken bowls, no extravagent rolls. Just traditional sushi.

The documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” reveals why the restaurant is so popular, and also the kind of shokunin Jiro really is: an entrepreneur. Jiro’s busines is a finely tuned instrument built for the sole purpose of perfecting the sushi experience.

Here are the five key lessons in the art of entrepreneurship from Jiro:

Perfect Your Craft
When one is an apprentice at Jiro’s establishment, he does not move onto a new station until he has perfected the craft of his current station. For example, his own son didn’t move on from making rice for several years until he got it just right. This way, every staff member knows his own station backwards and forwards, and the senior staff can help the apprentices as mentors.

Work Only With Specialists
Jiro only orders his tuna from a vendor that only sells tuna. He buys his rice from a vendor who only sells rice. In other words, Jiro only works with other shokunin: artists in their own field. Jiro feels it is the only way to control the quality of the ingredients he buys.

Control the Customer Experience
There is no menu at Sukiyabashi. Jiro has already orchestrated your menu for you when you walk in, depending on how many guests are coming, and whatever is fresh that day. Jiro even assigns the seats. Each bite of sushi is prepared right in front of the guest, literally one bite at a time. There are no little Kikoman bottles around; Jiro brushes the on what he considers the appropriate amount of soy cause to each creation like a painter to a canvas. Every aspect of the dining experience is controlled by Jiro for maximum enjoyment. Considering Jiro has decades of knowledge of what makes good sushi, can you blame him for taking the control away from the dining experience from diners?

Never Apologize for Your Prices
Sukiyabashi Jiro is booked with reservations for months out. The entire dining experience will last an average person about 15 minutes, and easily spend a few hundred dollars for it. Considering the the demand, and quality that goes into the entire experience, Sukiyabashi Jiro has no problem finding diners. So why apologize for the prices? If you prefer to pay $10 at your grocery store for sushi that has been drying out all day in a refrigerator, then Sukiyabashi is not the place for you.

Empower Your Employees by Sharing Your Values
Although Jiro, and sometime his son, may serve the sushi, it takes the entire staff a whole day, sometimes days, to prepare for one meal. To make sure that this engine runs smoothely, Jiro instills the same value of quality in all his staff members so they can perform their own quality control when he is not there (which is rare). The kitchen would be dysfunctional if Jiro’s values were not shared with the entire staff. The qualiy of food would be inconsistant and both the restaurant and the diners would suffer.

Running a business is part science, and there is also a great deal of art involved. Having a finally tuned kitchen is like choreographing a dance, or conducting an orchestra. As an entrepreneur, you can either inspire greatness in all your employees, or you can settle for mediocrity.

Jiro teaches that in order to be a shokunin in entrepeneurship, one must fully commit to perfecting their craft. Being an entrepreneur, then, is not a title, it is a way of life.

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