In the latest instalment of our online interview series, we sat down with Tetsuro Hama, restaurateur and Founder of eho chef, the corporate dining matchmaking platform that is a perfect addition to any PA’s little black book of contacts...
Tell us about your background as a restaurateur and why you started eho chef…
I started my first restaurant in 1973 in UK and consequently opened another a few years later which I ran for nearly a decade before I sold them and took a break from the restaurant business to try other industries.
However, my entrepreneurial journey and love of food brought me back to hospitality, so I opened So Restaurant in Piccadilly in 2006, which is still running successfully today.
Throughout these experiences, I learned recruiting chefs was hard and understood their social and financial position is not strong and want to help. I thought there must be a better solution we can offer. I saw an opportunity in the shared economy model such as Air BnB and Uber. It inspired me to apply this to the catering industry and so eho chef was created.
What have been the biggest challenges the Catering/Restaurant/Hospitality industry has faced over the past 12 months?
Rising costs in rent and food has applied more pressure to the restaurant and hospitality industry as consumer’s demand for value and experiences rise but their disposable income is reduced.
I wanted to provide a win-win situation for both the diners who want to enjoy and discover great food and talent and also the chefs and cooks who want to develop their experience to someday work independently and minimise that risk.
With eho chef, I believe we can use tech to provide better bespoke, quality culinary experiences to the diner whilst providing better and more job opportunities to chefs and cooks looking to develop their careers with less risk.
And what have been the biggest opportunities in the industry?
Listening to food lovers and event organisers, there is overwhelm in choice and search whilst trying to find quality.
Tech offers the biggest opportunity to make the search process even easier and connect directly to chef and cooks, making the tailor-made experience and services more accessible to everyone.
With the usual online model, chefs posted their menus & prices for organisers and diners to review. It was good but still time consuming. I felt was just an extension of looking through set restaurant menus and not truly embracing the efficiency of the online model. By promoting set menus you’re missing the creative and flexible service that can be provided.
After a while we realised it would be better to turn the process around. Now the diner or organiser expresses what they want, their requirements and outline their budget.
Then chefs and cooks that match the cuisine/location are notified directly and can respond with tailor-made suggestions. Chefs can make an offer if suitable, based on the price the diner suggested, or advise the cost they can provide this service for. Through this dynamic tech solution, their requests can be met easily.
What is the biggest priority for the Catering/Restaurant/Hospitality industry in 2020?
There needs to be better accessibility to the talented chefs and cooks to showcase their creative skills and quality experiences. We need to support and promote them and provide a more flexible model within the industry to do this.
During the past couple of decades, we’ve seen diversity as we’ve enjoyed more and more variety of restaurants and cuisines, yet the set up can be limiting for some.
Travelling is not easy for some people, particularly families, and some events need certain requirements where restaurant menu choices can be limiting – eho chef can fill the gap.
What are the main trends you are expecting to see in the market in 2020?
The consumer is driving key trends in terms of requirements – both in quality, value and conscious decisions such as rise of plant-based cuisine and sustainability.
Almost nobody has the freedom to ask chefs to cook exactly how they want to meet their requirements, unless they have their own in-house chefs, whom also have certain limitations.
Through eho chef, you gain access to many talented chefs and cooks who offer of a wide selection of dishes, specialities, and approaches at an accessible price point.
From catering to events with creative options, street food, formal dining, to providing thoughtful gifts/rewards to experience quality cuisine, I believe people should have the freedom to request exactly what they want including any dietary requirements.
What technology is going to have the biggest impact on the market next year?
Technology has particularly highlighted the demand for direct service, particularly through delivery apps but this comes with an increased cost to both the restaurant and the customer.
Technology however can’t replace quality or a personalised service which is also important. We’re in the service industry and whether you’re organising an event or hosting a dinner at home you want a personal touch.
eho chef is platform that matches makes your requirements directly to the provider. Should you want to find a talented chef for an occasion/date/cuisine, it is a huge task. Even with a specialist catering company it’s not easy to find a best matching chef.
With eho chef all of this can be done in a few seconds. We believe with our 300 active registered chefs in and around London, it will be easier to find the perfect match. The actual registered number of chefs is over double this amount and the more requests that come through the more likely they are to respond, providing even more choice.
We’ve also seen how social media channels, enabling customers to better understand the services we’re providing, become increasingly important. We want to create an online community to share and promote their experiences and also provide more inspiration and insights into this new concept.
In 2025 we’ll all be talking about…?
We’re approaching very interesting and challenging times, particularly from 2020.
Ultimately, I think that the power of choice will lie in the hands of the customer. Their requirements will dictate how they want to enjoy their experiences.
Our goal is to use tech to provide convenience, creativity and accessibility.
We firmly believe this will be a norm to ask and find a chef to cook and serve from the comfort of your home for any occasion.
Which person in or associated with, the Catering/Restaurant/Hospitality industry would you most like to meet?
At the inaugural meeting of the Japanese Culinary Academy UK, which I chair for, I met Heston Blumenthal, he was open-minded and eager to experiment and I was inspired.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learnt about the Catering/Restaurant/Hospitality sector?
There are more and more chefs who are ambitious and want to have their own restaurant but getting good premises are limited.
If you want a good prominent location it will be with huge premium. This overhead has to be charged to customer regardless of how successful the restaurant is. Even talented chefs need a lot of luck to find the right premises at the right time. I think that much talent in the industry is still undiscovered.
What’s the most exciting thing about your job?
As a pioneer, I can face and challenge the new dimensions of food/catering service.
And what’s the most challenging?
Getting the word out and getting people to understand the new concept of eho chef. Once we’re understood, I’m sure everyone will appreciate the benefits of our service.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
There is much advice to hear but I have to make my own decision to progress.
Peaky Blinders or Stranger Things?
I don’t watch either but I’m constantly curious which keeps me young! Seeking improvement in business and everyday life is my priority interest. I like challenge and to change the norm. Therefore I’m always happy to receive any recommendations on film, programmes or books in that field.