Love at first sight.
Our encounter with Masa was something in that line.
We had been going to this restaurant for the past two years. Every time we came and visited, we felt something special about him.
The way he greeted his customer.
The way he showed them to their seats.
The way he bowed so slightly to each customer.
His service was something we never expected to see at this restaurant.
Masa made us feel comfortable.
He made us curious.
We wondered where he worked before, what he learned, and how he came to establish his current style of restaurant management.
Interesting. More than interesting, we thought.
However, something stopped us from asking him a question. All we could do was say Hello every time we visited the restaurant.
We kept pressing my desire to find out more about him for two years until when we finally decided to ask him. we felt, as if, a teenager asking someone for a date, for the very first time.
"Excuse us...," we sounded like a flying mosquito.
We told Masa what we did.
"Really? I had no idea." Masa sounded surprised.
"Would you be up for an interview??"
He accepted with a smile.
"How did you end up here?" we asked Masa.
"It's a long story," Masa said.
His original reason for coming to the US was to make a film. He ended up working at a restaurant waiting tables. It was supposed to be a temporary job until we become successful in the film industry.
With his English skill at a minimum conversational level, his customers often had a difficult time understanding him. Masa realized speaking slowly was the key. Hearing him talk, the elderly female customer told him he was very polite.
“When we saw customers being happy, then it made me happy,” Masa recalled.
“I believe that is the reason why I decided to continue working at a restaurant.”
The second restaurant where he worked had many snobby-demanding customers.
“It was tough work, but I got great experience there. It was valuable hospitality training,” Masa said.
When he started to work at his current restaurant, Masa did not want to work the front of the house.
"I wanted to work in the kitchen. However, when I started to have interaction with customers, then I realized how much I enjoyed working the front of the house. So, I thought maybe I do a bit longer.”
Masa witnessed many magical moments at restaurants.
“I saw an old man came in with an oxygen tank. He was waiting for his friend and waited for a long time. Finally, his friend arrived and told me that they met each other after 50 years. They were war friends. They showed me old pictures and telling me their war stories. I felt so special being there and watching such a dramatic moment. I became part of it and I helped to create that moment.”
Asked what his most important work ethics were, Masa said, “always thinking about the customers,” “Never compromise,” and “Being invisible.”
“I am here because customers are here, so I think about them first, always. Then learn from past mistakes and never to make the same ones by compromising. No excuses. Do everything I can. Many times, I make mistakes because I hesitated and did not do what I could have done. Lastly, always stay behind the scene. I enjoy doing things customers don’t notice but enjoyed. It makes me happy knowing I did that.”
We felt Masa carried both the Japanese "Omotenashi" hospitality spirit and the heart of American hospitality.
To Masa, managing a restaurant and making a film all have something in common.
“My job is to create a dreamland, where a customer can visit and enjoy,” he said. “The restaurant crew is just like a film crew. All we need to do is to play our role to entertain our customers. We remain behind the scene.”
“I thought I stop working at a restaurant when my film career takes off, but it has not yet happened. I wonder how long I can continue working, but it is so rewarding. Every day is a different experience. Each customer is different. Each table is unique. It’s like being a real movie and I am in a different one every day. I like that."