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My latest popup in Cheltenham was my longest so far. Now I want to make casual Japanese permanent in Cheltenham.
271 backers pledged £54,830 to help bring this project to life.

About

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Last October we converted the ground floor of a townhouse cafe into a popup Japanese restaurant. We opened with a small menu of casual, Japanese dishes complemented by Japanese beer and cocktails. Over the nine weeks that followed, we improved our recipes and added a daily specials board, including crowdpleasers such as hirata buns and ramen bowls. It was not a big space - just 14 seats, plus 4 bar stools - but nonetheless we were flattered and encouraged by how quickly word spread. By the time we closed for Christmas, we were so delighted with the response, that we now want to make casual Japanese dining part of the permanent Cheltenham restaurant scene.

A new style of Japanese restaurant

Over the last few years of guest nights and popups, recently at The Wheatsheaf in Northleach and at Soushi in Cirencester, I have been honing my vision for the kind of Japanese food that people in the Cotswolds want to eat. For me, that means moving away from a premium and sushi-led offering, towards a more casual style, but still freshly prepared and cooked.

I've been impressed with Cheltenham and feel it is the right place for my first restaurant and a new style of Japanese dining, combining a modern atmosphere, good music, Japanese-inspired cocktails and beers with tasty Japanese food that can either be fresh and light (like our beef salad) or more comforting (like our fried chicken), depending on your mood or tastes. Followed by little desserts, for those who want to end on a sweet note without feeling bloated.

Team

I was also delighted that the project attracted some of Cheltenham's most talented and passionate hospitality staff. As an unknown entity without a big brand above the door, I anticipated struggling with recruitment. Thanks to the team's enthusiasm and hard work, we were up and running inside three weeks from a standing start and the results showed in good feedback about the food, the service and the atmosphere generally - in person, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TripAdvisor. The former team are all keen to come back. Paul Foster is a talented, meticulous and creative partner in the kitchen, who, despite his experience, remains as keen as ever to learn and to develop his own Japanese cooking. Conor has proved his worth as a true utility man, able to turn his hand to anything from DIY, artwork, veg prep and washing dishes. Jamie and Bex, who were an essential asset and the core team front of house for the popup are both keen to come back on board.

Popup to Permanent

We chose the site for the popup because it had all the infrastucture we needed to get up and running quickly. With a lick of paint, some hand painted murals and some creative interior design on a popup budget, we were good to go. Along the way we also made tweaks in the kitchen, either to enable us to add items to the menu or just to make life easier with the larger team than the kitchen was designed for.

Now, having decided that it is time put down roots, we need to take it to the next level. We have secured the same site that we had for the popup - for most restaurateurs finding and negotiating the right site is the biggest hurdle, and lengthiest. For us, it's an ideal situation as we have experience of having actually operated there. But in order for us to meet our potential and grow up from popup to permanent, we need to invest in the kitchen and the restaurant in general.

Crowdfunding

That's why I have turned to Kickstarter. My bank has been very keen to offer their payment processing and current account services, but less forthcoming on the lending front, to help meet the costs of refurbishing the dining spaces and refitting the kitchen. Fortunately, crowdfunding and Kickstarter in particular has helped to provide the financing to bring several restaurants to fruition.

How it works

The principle is very simple. In return for helping to fund the restaurant, you earn a reward based on your contribution. With Kickstarter, it is all or nothing - unless we meet the target, we won't get any funds - so we also need you to spread the word for us among any potential customers who would like to see this restaurant come to life.

Encouragement and support from people who have "been there, done that"

Tom Kerridge, Chef Patron, The Hand and Flowers, Marlow
Tom Kerridge, Chef Patron, The Hand and Flowers, Marlow

 "I think it fantastic that Koj is going it alone. Food businesses are driven by a passion and anyone who follows their dreams to bring quality dining to Gloucestershire is a massive boost to the whole area. Come on people, get behind this project!" Tom Kerridge, Chef Patron, The Hand and Flowers, Marlow

Michel Roux Jr, Chef Patron, Le Gavroche, Mayfair
Michel Roux Jr, Chef Patron, Le Gavroche, Mayfair

"Koj's style of food reflects his heritage and he has an understanding of what brings joy to the palate like no other." Michel Roux Junior, Chef Patron, Le Gavroche, Mayfair

Click for Tom's video message
Click for Tom's video message

 

"Back Koj - do it!" Tom Herbert, The Fabulous Baker Brothers, Hobbs House Bakery

Click for Ben's video message
Click for Ben's video message

 "Good luck, Koj!" Ben Fordham, Founder & CEO, Benito's Hat

Caroline Bennett, Founder, Moshi Moshi, London
Caroline Bennett, Founder, Moshi Moshi, London

"I opened Britain’s first conveyor belt sushi restaurant in 1994. My intention with the conveyor belt was to widen it’s appeal and Moshi Moshi in its humble surroundings in Liverpool Street station really took off. I’m really chuffed that Britain has woken up to the delights of sushi but the popularity of sushi has eclipsed all the other amazing dishes in Japan and that’s a shame. Hopefully that’s all about to change! There is no one more perfectly placed to introduce the UK to Japan’s many other flavours; with Koj’s flair and expertise we are all in for treat." Caroline Bennett, founder of Moshi Moshi, London

Hywel Jones (right), Executive Chef, The Park, Lucknam Park
Hywel Jones (right), Executive Chef, The Park, Lucknam Park

 "We've been lucky enough to have Koj as a guest chef tutor at Lucknam Park Cookery School on many occasions and he always delivers outstanding dishes with bold and exciting flavours. The feedback from his courses has been remarkable. He clearly enjoys cooking as much as he enjoys showing others how to fall in love with authentic Japanese cuisine. We wish him all the best at his new location in Cheltenham and look forward to welcoming him back to Lucknam Park." Hywel Jones and Ben Taylor, Lucknam Park, Colerne

Ben Taylor, Lucknam Park Cookery School, National Chef of Wales 2016
Ben Taylor, Lucknam Park Cookery School, National Chef of Wales 2016

 

Risks and challenges

The restaurant industry is notoriously tricky but combining my previous career in finance with my passion for hospitality, food and Japanese food in particular, I'm in a good position to navigate the potential pitfalls.

Over the last few years, I have spent a lot of time researching the industry, speaking to friends and contacts who have experience in hospitality, and assessing the merits of Cheltenham versus other towns that are close to me (mainly Cirencester, Bath and Bristol).

The result is a business plan that has given me the confidence to get this far and will be a yardstick to measure our progress and attract further investment should we need it.

Competition in the restaurant industry is tough. In a crowded market with a relentless supply of new entrants, differentiation is key - fortunately there are only a handful of Japanese restaurants in the town and surrounding area - and even then, we think we will stand out from the crowd.

It's often difficult for new, independent operators to stand out against the marketing power of the bigger chains. They usually offer pretty good value and 'you know what you're getting'. Quid pro quo, the quality of food and service can be mediocre or inconsistent, so we aim to deliver a better product by keeping our team small, passionate and focused.

A career in hospitality is unattractive to most people: the remuneration is hardly compensation for the long and antisocial hours. Fortunately, by being small and young as a business, we have already attracted good staff and we hope that will continue - by developing an attractive work culture and offering staff a profit share in addition to competitive wages.

I'm lucky to have developed "Koj" as a good brand in the local area, but we will rely initially on word of mouth and social media to help promote us, not just among the residents of Cheltenham, who we hope will form the core of our customer base, but also the thousands of visitors that come to Cheltenham for shopping, Cotswold holidays and the festivals.

Eating out has become a larger part of people's lives in the last twenty years, partly because of a growing interest in food and partly also because low interest rates have given people more disposable income. If interest rates rise, as they eventually must, that disposable income will fall and eating out will become more of a luxury. We aim to appeal to a broad range of customers, both in terms of their age and pockets.

Some operators have blamed Brexit for the closure of some of their restaurants. All I can say is that regardless of the outcome of Brexit, we will still want and need restaurants. It's an uncertain time to be entering the industry, but necessity is the mother of invention. I have faith that I and the people around me will be resourceful when it comes to ideas for increasing revenues and minimising costs.

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    Pledge £5 or more About US$ 6

    Personalised social media shoutout

    A personalised thank you message from Koj on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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    Student lunch

    Choose from:
    - Any Ramen
    - Any Pokedon
    - Any 2 Hirata buns and Miso Soup

    Includes any free drink or dessert up to the value of £5.

    Available Tuesday to Friday lunchtimes with a valid student card.

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    Yuzu posset and recipe card

    Our signature dessert and a signed recipe card.

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    Your name on the wall

    Paint your name in calligraphy on a replica Japanese menu board and hang it in the restaurant.

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    KFC (Koj Fried Chicken) and recipe card

    Our signature dish and a signed recipe card with the 'secret recipe'.

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    Koj apron

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    Gyoza masterclass

    Koj will instruct you on making gyoza fillings, gyoza sauce, pleating and cooking gyozas. Tuesday 11th April 2017.

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    Sushi masterclass and starter pack

    Strictly speaking we're offering #NoSushi Japanese in the restaurant, but it seems a little churlish to shun the posterboy of Japanese cuisine. Koj teaches sushi as part of his Japanese syllabus at cookery schools around the country. This masterclass with Koj and "Sushi Al" (former private sushi chef to The Prodigy) includes the basics of preparing sushi rice, then making different types of sushi. Includes a starter pack so you can practise at home. Available on Tuesday 30th May 2017.

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    One day work experience

    Spend a day in the kitchen, to experience a professional kitchen and see how we prepare some of our dishes.

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    Signed Koj recipe book

    In the pipeline for 2018 is a recipe book of our first 100 recipes (and more!). You will receive one of 12 signed copies of the book.

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    Dinner for 2 - Summer 2017

    Dinner for two people, up to the value of £80. Available in June and July 2017. Please note we are closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings.

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    Dinner for 2 - Spring 2017

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    Dinner for 2 - Autumn 2017

    Dinner for two people, up to the value of £80.
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    Dinner for 2 - The Festival

    Dinner for two people, up to the value of £100. Available Wednesday 15th March until Saturday 18th March 2017.

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    Dinner for 2 - Food Festival

    Dinner for two people, up to the value of £100. Available Friday 9th June until Saturday 10th June.

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    Dinner for 2 - Literature Festival

    Dinner for two people, up to the value of £100. Available Friday 6th October until Saturday 14th October. Please note we are closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings.

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    Invite for 2 to our VIP launch party

    Two guest passes for our canape launch party.

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    Create your own Japanese dish

    A session with Koj and Paul on how they come up with new dishes, followed by a stint in the development kitchen. Your dish will be featured on the specials board in the restaurant for one month.

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    Dinner for 4 - Spring 2017

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    Dinner for 4 - Summer 2017

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    Dinner for 4 - Literature Festival

    Dinner for four people, up to the value of £200. Available Friday 6th October until Saturday 14th October. Please note we are closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings.

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    One week popup art gallery exhibition

    Approximately 8 square metres of wall space on our first floor, available for exclusive use as a pop-up art gallery (Tuesday to Saturday). With street level advertising space and co-marketing via social media.

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    Dinner for 4 - April Meeting

    Dinner for four people, up to the value of £200. Available Wednesday 19th April and Thursday 20th April 2017.

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    Dinner for 4 - Hunter Chase Meeting

    Dinner for four people, up to the value of £200. Available Friday 5th May 2017.

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    Dinner for 4 - Autumn Meetings

    Dinner for two people, up to the value of £100, available for next seasons's autumn Race Meetings:
    - Friday 27th October 2017
    - Saturday 28th October 2017
    - Friday 18th November 2017
    - Saturday 19th November 2017
    - Friday 16th December 2017
    - Saturday 17th December 2017

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    Dinner for 4 - November Meeting

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    £200 in gift vouchers

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    Schools talk / Q&A session with Koj

    Available for schools and universities: an introductory talk by Koj on topics including career change, Japanese food and culture or behind the scenes as a MasterChef contestant, followed by Q&A. Available in Cheltenham, Cotswold and Stroud District Councils - or further afield subject to travel expenses.

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    One week work experience

    Spend a week in the kitchen at Koj, to experience a professional kitchen and see how we prepare some of our dishes.

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    Create your own dish - recipe book

    A session with Koj and Paul on how they come up with new dishes, followed by a stint in the development kitchen. Your dish will feature on the specials board in the restaurant for one month but will also have a guaranteed spot in our recipe book.

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    Dinner for 6 - Spring 2017

    Dinner for six people, up to the value of £300. Redeemable in March, April or May 2017. Please note we expect to be closed on Sunday, Monday and Tuesdays.

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    Dinner for 6 - Summer 2017

    Dinner for six people, up to the value of £300. Redeemable in June or July 2017. Please note we expect to be closed on Sunday, Monday and Tuesdays.

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    Dinner for 6 - October Meeting

    Dinner for six people, up to the value of £300. Available Friday 27th October and Saturday 28th October 2017.

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    Dinner for 6 - Autumn 2017

    Dinner for six people, up to the value of £300, Redeemable in September, October or November 2017. Please note we expect to be closed on Sunday, Monday and Tuesdays.

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    £300 gift voucher

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    Cocktail making class

    A one hour cocktail making masterclass with our bartender, for up to 8 people. Date to be agreed.

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    1 hour talk / Q&A session with Koj

    Available for registered companies. A short talk by Koj on any topics including career change, Japanese food and culture or behind the scenes as a MasterChef contestant, followed by Q&A. Subject to travel expenses.

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    Large group dinner at Koj Cheltenham

    A special party menu for up to a maximum of 14 guests. Does not include alcohol (Kickstarter rules).

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    Large group dinner - up to 20

    A special party menu and welcome drink for up to 20 guests.

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    Sunday lunch for up to 10 people at home

    Koj will come and cook a 3 course Sunday lunch for up to 10 people in the comfort of your own home. Available up to 30 miles from Cirencester, or further afield subject to agreement on travel expenses.

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  49. Reward no longer available

    Pledge £995 or more About US$ 1,268

    Dinner for up to 10 people at home

    Koj will come and cook a Japanese tasting menu for up to 10 people in the comfort of your own home. Available up to 30 miles from Cirencester or further afield subject to agreement on travel expenses.

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  50. Select this reward

    Pledge £995 or more About US$ 1,268

    Dinner for up to 10 people at home 2018

    Koj will come and cook a Japanese tasting menu for up to 10 people in the comfort of your own home. Available up to 30 miles from Cirencester or further afield subject to agreement on travel expenses.

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    Limited 3 backers
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    Pledge £1,000 or more About US$ 1,275

    A4 company logo on our mural

    Your company logo will be hand painted to join the mural of iconic Japanese brands on the ground floor of the restaurant. A4 size. Your company must be Japanese or have a strong connection to Japan and Japanese culture.

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  52. Select this reward

    Pledge £1,000 or more About US$ 1,275

    Japanese cookery event

    For up to 10 people, Koj will take your through Japanese classics such as sushi, gyozas, miso soup and yakitori. The class will take place in the afternoon, followed by dinner in the restaurant. Drinks not included (Kickstarter rules). Date by mutual agreement.

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  53. Select this reward

    Pledge £1,500 or more About US$ 1,912

    Corporate Dinner

    For board meetings or away days, we will come and cook a 3 course dinner for up to 20 people at your office or venue of your choice within 30 miles of Cirencester. Includes food and staff. Does not include alcohol, catering equipment hire or venue hire, if required. Available Monday to Thursday, date by mutual arrangement.

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  54. Select this reward

    Pledge £2,250 or more About US$ 2,868

    Corporate canape event

    Canape party event for up to 50 people with menu up to 30 miles from Cirencester (or further afield subject to travel expenses). Includes food and staff. Does not include alcohol (Kickstarter rules). Not available in December.

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  55. Reward no longer available

    Pledge £2,500 or more About US$ 3,186

    New Year's Eve dinner

    New Year's Eve three course dinner for up to 20 people, cooked by Koj. Includes food and staff. Does not include alcohol (Kickstarter rules). Available up to 30 miles from Cirencester, or further afield subject to travel expenses.

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  56. Select this reward

    Pledge £2,995 or more About US$ 3,817

    Samurai Card

    Unlimited dining for the holder and one guest during 2017. Subject to terms and conditions.

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  57. Select this reward

    Pledge £5,995 or more About US$ 7,641

    Shogun Card

    Unlimited dining for the holder and up to three guests during 2017. Subject to terms and conditions.

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  58. Select this reward

    Pledge £7,995 or more About US$ 10,190

    Emperor Card

    Unlimited dining for the holder and up to five guests during 2017. Subject to terms and conditions.

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Funding period

- (25 days)