The certification program of Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Stores Overseas
Interview of Suppoter Stores Sanraku
An authentic yet casual Japanese restaurant has been popular among locals.
San Francisco / USA
Bringing Japanese Cuisine to Northern California for 30 years
San Francisco has a wealth of Japanese restaurants, ranging from authentic kaiseki cuisine to casual izakayas all the way to sushi-boat. Restaurants like Sanraku, in the Oak Ridge Mall in San Jose, are helping pave the way for authentic Japanese cuisine in the Silicon Valley. “I opened Sanraku here in San Jose last year (2016) because I wanted people in Silicon Valley to enjoy authentic Japanese cuisine more casually,” said owner/CEO Hiro Hattori.
Seeing a need for an authentic yet casual Japanese restaurant, Sanraku’s first San Francisco location was opened in 1989 on Sutter Street. Since then, Sanraku has been popular among locals as well as visitors from all over the world. A second restaurant opened in the Metreon shopping plaza in San Francisco’s South of Market (SOMA) district in 1989. In addition to the restaurants, he operates a couple of eat-in and take-out kiosks at San Francisco International Airport, making Sanraku one of the San Franciso Bay Area’s leading Japanese restaurants of the last 30 years.
"My mission is to contribute to the development of Japanese culture by providing authentic Japanese food to people in the San Francisco Bay Area,” said Hattori. He came to the United States over 30 years ago to study English in New York. He then came to San Francisco to help his mother to open a Japanese restaurant. “I was supposed to return to New York a few months later. Twenty-eight years passed by in the blink of an eye.”
Reasons to use Japanese ingredients
"Here at this restaurant in San Jose, eighty percent of our customers are non-Japanese,” he said. “I can safely say Sanraku is well-accepted by locals. But I also want Japanese people, even visiting from Japan, to say that our food is authentic and delicious."
The chefs at all Sanraku restaurants are from Japan who are professionally trained in Japanese cuisine. This authenticity is paramount to the restaurant’s success, however he is open to adopt local customers’ needs where necessary. “Take sushi, for example,” he said. “Rather than California rolls, many people nowadays want eat the same things that people in Japan are eating. When I started the restaurant 30 years ago, it was rare to see local customers order Uni (sea urchin) and Toro (fatty tuna). Now, they are very popular, next to tuna and salmon. On the other hand, we still have a lot of customers who want so-called ‘American rolls’.” He must respond to the needs of both kinds of customer. Sanraku also offers teriyaki and tempura for the same reason. “But they are authentic. Adoption and compromise are two different things.”
The popular dishes are, after all, sushi and sashimi. Seared Bonito, which is a seasonal item in addition to Sanraku’s large menu of authentic dishes, is topped with garlic chips and slightly sweet soy sauce. “In Kochi prefecture, which is home of Bonito, people eat it with garlic soy sauce instead of ginger soy sauce,” he said. And, of course, there’s Sushi. “Many people in the Silicon Valley has been to Japan multiple time, so they know what real Japanese sushi tastes like,” Hattori said. “We use fish straight from Japan where possible. Even Japanese people will say that our food tastes the same as in Japan.” Sanraku makes it a habit to use Japanese seasonings, dried items and sake whenever possible. “Seasonings especially make a difference,” he said. “Therefore, particularly for premium items, I want to use Japanese products. However there needs to be a sense of balance. It would be ideal if you could use only Japanese-made things, but it would be extremely expensive which would not lead to the spread of Japanese food.”
The importance of the experience
When you visit a Japanese restaurant, the experience goes hand-in-hand with the cuisine. “Usually a customer who wants to enjoy a meal while interacting with the chef will sit at the sushi counter,” he said. “Speaking as a customer, when the chef tells me a little information about the fish and where it’s from, I get more interested. When you make this connection, the diner looks forward to coming here again.”
Because of the importance of experience, Sanraku spends hours training its staff —Japanese and non-Japanese alike — about the “hows and why’s” of Japanese service. “I am very particular about doing service in the Japanese style. While it’s important to understand the customer's culture and needs, you must properly tailor the service to the Japanese style. We spend hours on training to ensure that we get the service aspect right.”
Japanese ingredients to incorporate in the future
Hattori thinks the desire to use authentic Japanese ingredients will increase. "I think that in the future, we’ll use more Japanese beef as well as fish,” he said. “In the Silicon Valley you have more people willing to pay more for the food that they eat, especially if they know it’s going to be delicious”, said Hattori. “I hope to see more variety of Japanese items with quality, value, and most of all, delicious tastes.”