What do I need to start a pizza shop?
August 22, 2006 10:56 PM   Subscribe

I want to start a pizza business here in Japan. Apart from the "in Japan" bit, what do I need to do to get this idea off the ground?

I have never worked in the pizza business (delivery or making) and I've never opened my own business before. I just live on an island that I like, and I want to stay and do something interesting (and hopefully beneficial for my community).

I have checked out a site about starting a pizza business, but it seems to be defunct (i.e. emails to the webmaster are returned by the mail deamon siting "user unknown"). The site does have a working link to a secure sever where you can order the guides the author wrote. Given the fate of my emails to the webmaster, I am a bit hesitant about ordering them.

Leaving out the "in Japan" parts (getting a Visa, language abilities, etc.), what advice do you have for starting a pizza shop? What kind of costs will I be looking at? Am I an idiot for wanting to do this?
posted by snwod to Work & Money (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's taking all my will to "leave out the 'in Japan' parts" since that will be at least 50% of what you're up against.

And the other 50% is pretty big. In general you should only start a business doing something you know. And if you're going into business for something you don't know, you should at least know about running a business.

The only things I would recommend, if you really want to go through with it, is to either: find a Japanese business partner with restaurant experience who wants to open a new place and let them take the lead in managing things. Or look into getting something like a Pizza-La franchise where they take care of most of the stuff you don't know.

And yeah, don't forget about all the "in Japan" stuff.

You're a long ways off from opening the doors. I would first read at least four books on starting a business, writing business plans, doing market research and securing financing.

Then learn how to make a pizza.
posted by Ookseer at 11:28 PM on August 22, 2006

Japanese people think that mayonaise is foreign and exotic which makes it an "in" condiment.

Consider offering a mayonaise pizza.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 12:04 AM on August 23, 2006

Here is an online copy of The Pizza Manager's Guide to Ingredient Purchasing and Preparation.
posted by Sirius at 1:53 AM on August 23, 2006 [2 favorites]

get a proper wood burning oven with a serious stone. and get a business partner.
posted by bonaldi at 1:56 AM on August 23, 2006

You don't know anything about the pizza business and you want to start your own?

One word: Don't.

You'll go down, and it won't have anything (or only little) to do with the fact that you are in Japan.

My best advice: Get a job in a pizza place to learn the ropes. Then after two years or so, think again whether you really want to start your own shop.

There is this Italian guy from Naples who first started a place in Osaka in cooperation with Matsushita. He soon kissed them goodbye and struck out on his own. His business grew and he now drives a Ferrari. But then again, he's a gifted chef, his pizzas are by all accounts the best in town and he knows his business.
posted by sour cream at 1:59 AM on August 23, 2006

Also, the Japanese have some interesting ideas when it comes to making pizza. Could you in good conscience make a potato and sweetcorn pizza then cover it in a lattice of mayonnaise? Or a 'four-cheese' pizza accompanied by a little jug of honey? If not, you have no place opening a pizza restaurant in Japan.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:22 AM on August 23, 2006

MonkeySaltedNuts : "Japanese people think that mayonaise is foreign and exotic which makes it an 'in' condiment."

Japanese put mayonaise on everything. Perhaps one day long ago they did this because they saw it as "foreign" and "exotic". But, by the same token, Koreans eat spicy food because red peppers are "foreign" and "exotic", coming from the New World post-Columbus, and the Italians eat pasta because it is "foreign" and "exotic", coming from China.

The time frames are different, I'll admit, but society changes rapidly nowadays, and while perhaps mayonnaise is still seen as foreign, it's far from being considered exotic.
posted by Bugbread at 3:54 AM on August 23, 2006

I know about the Japanese penchant for mayo and corn and other interesting items on pizza. I live in Japan. ;)

Thanks for the replies. A little discouraging, but then they are honest and that's what I need.

There is a chance that I can partner up with a local here who already has a restaurant in the town next to mine. Also, in regards to location, this isn't Osaka or any big city center. I'm on an island, with mostly ramen shops, izakayas, and sushi joints. Other than my friend's place, there isn't much of a choice for something not listed in the three restaurant types mentioned previously. I also understand that this might not bode well for a pizza shop, but from what I gather from the people around me Japanese folks do like pizza. There's just no where on the island to get it.

Just a little more info for you to digest...
posted by snwod at 4:19 AM on August 23, 2006

So, if your friend has a pizza shop, go work there. You're not going to succeed unless you have the most basic inclination of how to do it. I worked at pizza places all through college, and there's a lot more to it than you might think. Just being able to handle a friday night in which you've had two drivers call out, and there's a game on so you're doing over a hundred pizzas an hour...that's a skill unto itself.
posted by Spoonman at 5:56 AM on August 23, 2006

A little bit off-topic, but I suggest you read a book called Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan by Robert Whiting. It's about an American named Nick Zapetti from Harlem who moves to Japan and becomes a notorious crime boss. He just happens to open and run his own pizza place and they happen to go into some detail about the business and specifically how he had to compromise to suit Japanese palettes.
posted by Ekim Neems at 6:17 AM on August 23, 2006

I know you've requested that we leave out the "in japan" part, but my understanding from four years of east-asian studies classes focusing on Japan was that the legal and regulatory system is very hostile to foreigners owning their own property, nevermind a business. You might want to ensure you know how to navigate these waters before you do anything else.

Also, second the "go work at your friend's place a while," for all the reasons people have given above.
posted by Alterscape at 6:49 AM on August 23, 2006

Having worked at a pizza place for five years, it's definitely not something you should try with less than two years' experience working for someone else's pizza shop, Japan or not.

Japanwise, pizza isn't really all that popular -- indeed, I get this feeling that one of the reasons the Domino's in Hirakata, Osaka is able to remain solvent is the huge number of foreign students living in town at any given time. Pizza is a novelty in Japan, so you'd need a pretty large market to sustain sales and keep yourself in the black (perhaps the other reason Hirakata's Domino's is still in business is that it's one of Osaka's largest bed towns).

Everyone's already told you about how weird Japanese pizza is, so I won't bother repeating that. I will, however, say that jumping into the deep end is a bad idea until you've already learned to swim.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:59 AM on August 23, 2006

I think it bears pointing out that the poster lives in Japan, so telling him general information about Japan is pretty pointless. Information about starting a business in Japan (for example, "Remember that a 'Permit for Establishment of a Food Handling Location' must be filed at the city hall exactly 9.7 days in advance of making any business cards") would probably be very helpful, and information about starting businesses, especially pizza businesses, anywhere would probably be pretty useful, but stuff like "Japanese put corn and other weird stuff on their pizza" is almost certainly already known by snwod, and thus useless.
posted by Bugbread at 3:47 PM on August 23, 2006

Koreans eat spicy food because red peppers are "foreign" and "exotic"

Offtopic, but in the ten years since I first came to Korea, I've never encountered this idea.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:44 AM on August 24, 2006

Stavros: That was my point. Red pepper came from the Americas, so at one point, it was foreign and exotic in Korea. Those days are long, long, long, long past. Generations and generations past. Mayonnaise's growth in popularity in Japan is more recent, but nowadays mayonnaise is about as exotic in Japan as red pepper is in Korea, or pasta is in Italy: that is, it isn't exotic.
posted by Bugbread at 5:33 AM on August 24, 2006

Ah. Yeah, it's true that peppers didn't show up until the Portuguese brought 'em in the 1700s, via Japan, coincidentally enough.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:43 AM on August 24, 2006

Definitely partner up with your friend in the next town - it will make things easier. If you've never been involved in the pizza business, I would say partnership is a must.

I second bonaldi's suggestion regarding proper stove.

One of my favorite pizza places in Yokohama had old-fashioned wooden games that you could play with at your table while you waited for your pizza. Simple, inexpensive feature but added so much to the dining experience (waiting for pizza was a pleasure, not an inconvenience).

In addition to pizza and business, study up on your wine and find a good wholesaler. There is a lot of profit to be made on wine with so little effort on your part. Pizzas are full of cheese. Cheese, of course, will make good, cheap wines taste great.

Square. Pizzas. Rock. (Enough said.)

Thin crusts all the way! (See my next point.)

Target women. Since you live in Japan you already know why so I will not elaborate. Go for quality over quantity. Try to design a pizza that is light, tasty and somehow helps with health and/or beauty (collagen, whatever).

Good luck!

Alterscape said:

...but my understanding from four years of east-asian studies classes focusing on Japan was that the legal and regulatory system is very hostile to foreigners owning their own property, nevermind a business.

The people who claim Japan is hostile to foreigners owning businesses are seriously out of touch. The Japanese government does whatever it can to help anyone set up a business here.

Sorry for the derail. The question specifically said "leave out the 'in Japan' part" but I had to strike down the "Japanese law is hostile to foreigners" bullshit.

Like any other country in the world, if you scratch an itch you will be laughing all the way to the bank regardless of your nationality. Your biggest concerns are cash flow, location, unique selling proposition, quality control, marketing, advertising, employee training/retention, regulatory/licensing requirements, taxes/pension/national health plan payments, waste/shrinkage control, cash flow, location and cash flow, not your nationality. (mentioning cash flow and location several times was, of course, intentional)

posted by cup at 10:51 PM on August 24, 2006

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