How a Streetside Maki Bar Will Become Your Next Favorite Japanese Restaurant
Desperate times often bring good fortune. In the case of Ohayo Maki x Sushi Bar, owners Miko Cayetano, Jorge Mendez, and Richard Legada, it came when they depleted their savings.
Cayetano initially struck gold as a stockbroker, but his newfound wealth went as quickly as it came. The resourceful 28-year-old needed to hustle, and he immediately thought about his brother-in-law, Chef Jorge Mendez.
They first planned for a Mexican joint in a space they found on bustling Tomas Morato, but after studying the market, they realized that what they wanted wasn't exactly what Quezon City wanted. They shifted gears and worked on a Japanese idea, a cuisine with which Mendez has professional (he used to be an R&D chef for a Japanese chain) and personal (when he was a kid, one thing that his mom always prepared for their meal was sushi rolls) experiences.
“Feeling namin this was what’s lacking in Timog,” says Mendez. “Tuwing kumakain kami ng Japanese sa area, mahal at hindi din good yung quality. So we decided to make affordable, easy-to-get, and good quality maki.”
On June 15, 2017, they opened Ohayo ("hello" in Japanese), a humble stall situated roadside. Times were tough at first: they only attracted about one or two customers a day. They came up with P99 maki rolls and the shop suddenly became a hit. Ohayo began luring crowds that lasted till the evening. This windfall, however, stopped four months later, when public works shut down their operations.
The two scrambled for a new location. Believing in the brand and taking advantage of the hype and following Ohayo had created, they settled on a former light store on Granada Street. With three storeys and 780 square meters, Ohayo became a grander project than they originally planned. Enter Richard Legarda to help them with the day-to-day operations.
“We were doubtful at first because we hardly see people in the area,” confesses Mendez. “But we thought, restaurants in the strip such as Mien San Noodle House have lasted for more than 20 years so maybe we just didn’t see them.”
Admittedly, the guys felt lost. “The concept was kalat. Whatever we initially had at the stall was what we put in the menu of the restaurant first. Plus, the construction had our funds running low.” But luck was on their side. Ohayo was featured in a local television show and the long lines returned. Everything else fell into place.
A bigger and better Ohayo opened on January 25, 2018 to a, well, unimpressed market. “We had many complaints and guests would leave disappointed,” claims Mendez. “I knew we had to offer something else apart from maki. So I added ramen. Even then, I wasn’t happy with the food we were sending out.” He hit the books, studied their products, and even tried Japanese delicacies when he was sent to Japan for another job. “My palate got more exposed and I had authentic ramen to compare to and learn from. I discovered that less is more and that I actually only needed three ingredients to make a good stock.”
After adjusting the recipes, customers started to return—and even helped spread the word. “They’d come back with more people. Our sales then tripled and quadrupled. Before we were happy already when we hit P25,000 a day. We would treat the whole team to food. But in just a few months, it has never gone below that mark.”
In the weeks that followed, they were able to grow their team, and business became more stable.
Today, Ohayo remains to be one of the busiest restaurants on the Granada strip. Plans of expansion are currently underway, and many people, many of whom are loyal customers, have approached them for possible business partnerships.
Cayetano, Mendez and Legada are definitely tasting success, yet they remain grounded, wise (they are very careful when accepting offers), and grateful, never forgetting their humble beginning. “We haven’t let go of our kiosk kasi masarap balikan kung paano kami nagsimula,” says Mendez. “Ayaw namin mawala yung memories. Reminder siya ng hirap namin.”
Ohayo Maki and Ramen Bar is at 30 Granada Avenue, Quezon City; contact 0927-552-1212.