I think by now, all Sydneysiders have at some stage either heard of, or been to four month old Japanese restaurant and karaoke, Mizuya. Thanks to this month’s sponsors, Silver Chef, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the entrepreneur behind Mizuya – Jessie Xiao, to discuss her experience in starting up a food business. It is hard to believe that at only 31 years of age, this is her third venture! So following on from the theme of entrepreneurism in issue #02 of our newsletter, I just had to share the inspirational story of this young business woman.

Mizuya Japanese restaurant and Karaoke in Sydney - the business woman and entrepreneur behind it is Jessie Xiao

In 2005, armed with plenty of passion and motivation to learn, Jessie left her full time job in funds management at 25 to join her then boyfriend (now husband) at K Square Karaoke which they had started from scratch. “We both knew we had that entrepreneurial spirit and that we were always going to do our own thing.” Jessie says. A year later, together with a combination of their own savings and financing from Silver Chef, sushi bar Umi Kaiten-Zushi was born.
Silver Chef basically provides equipment funding solutions that help hospitality businesses achieve their potential. They don’t exclude those who don’t have a trading history or who are young and without assets such as a home or previous business. “It is the use of the equipment not the ownership that generates profit” says Silver Chef CEO, Allan English.

Mizuya Japanese restaurant and karaoke, Sydney -  entrance from George Street

The idea of Jessie’s third venture, Mizuya, is the result of seeing an increase in the demand for izakaya style dining. These are like pubs which offer Japanese tapas and drinks.
“It’s for a bit of fun after work – a gathering place. These booths offer a bit of privacy and intimacy plus we also have private dining rooms which can be used for business presentations or leisure. They’re fitted with free-to-air TV, Foxtel and karaoke, but I’ve ensured that the rooms are still comfortable enough to eat in” Jessie says. “I grew up [in China and Hong Kong] where it was ordinary to have karaoke at home and really wanted to bring this experience into the general market to include families with kids and elders.”

Mizuya Japanese restaurant and karaoke, Sydney - sleek atmospheric karaoke private rooms

The restaurant itself looks like a maze with rows and rows of casual dining booths. It is a completely different world to the bustling George Street which it sits beneath. The dรฉcor is dark and atmospheric with a sleek luxury undertone and purple glow. The menu specializes in kushiyaki (grilled skewers) and kushiage (deep-fried skewers) as well as your typical Japanese sushi, sashimi, hot pots and teppanyaki.

Mizuya Japanese restaurant and karaoke, Sydney - cool ambiance

She puts her success down to taking pride in her work. Jessie giggles and admits that she’s a perfectionist who believes there is no textbook solution to the way of business. “I don’t expect people to think I’m an expert at everything ’cause I don’t come from within the industry” Jessie says. “I’m learning new things every day. Even just this morning, I met with a supplier and learned so much about wine. I’m never ashamed to ask questions and that follows through to the way I work with my staff”.

Mizuya Japanese restaurant and karaoke, Sydney - soft shell crab hand rolls and one tempura prawn roll

So why Japanese cuisine if she’s Chinese? “I have a combined degree in business and arts. In the arts stream, I studied the Japanese culture and have a love for their food“. “I like being able to control my own destiny and don’t like the constraints of falling into a bracket. You don’t have to be Japanese to open a Japanese restaurant.”

Mizuya Japanese restaurant and karaoke, Sydney - the kitchen and bar with equipment partly financed by Silver Chef

It took her almost a year to open Mizuya. The lease was signed in April 2009 but there was a lot of research into the viability of the business behind the scenes which she says probably started just before Christmas in 2008. Jessie has been hands on in experiencing every facet of the business and put herself in charge of everything from learning about the legal environment to deciding on the menu and pricing options.

Mizuya Japanese restaurant and karaoke, Sydney - miso soup, lotus root chips, shrimps, edamame beans, chicken kaarage, agedashi tofu

During that time, Jessie also approached Silver Chef as in retrospect, she believes she didn’t utilize them as much as they could have the first time [with the opening of sushi bar Umi Kaiten-Zushi]. With such a large project on hand (Mizuya occupies over 1000sqm) in a prime location, it was important to have both flexibility and the ability to save capital. “The team at Silver Chef were so understanding and helpful; they got quite close to the business and became like a business partner.” Jessie says.
She also proudly shows me the $20000 equipment that Silver Chef has helped fund. It produces their green tea soft-soft ice cream which has been pictured in food blogs across Sydney and is a perfect tasting replica of the cones I had in Japan.

Mizuya Japanese restaurant and karaoke, Sydney - green tea soft serve

Another popular piece of equipment is the touch-screen ordering system which sits at every booth. This may have been introduced to Sydney by Wagaya but Mizuya’s custom-developed system goes beyond the front end novelty. “It is a complete POS system which is capable of spitting out analytical data on sales” she says. She continues to advise that it is important to plan ahead as setting up a food business is a lengthy process which is not easy but extremely rewarding.

Mizuya Japanese restaurant and karaoke, Sydney - touch screen ordering system and some food and drinks

“The next milestone will definitely be the payback period which is closer because of a smaller start-up capital [than if we were to fund all the equipment ourselves]” Jessie says. Mizuya takes up most of Jessie’s time now but with a 15 month old baby, she is keen to eventually delegate more responsibilities to her management team so that she doesn’t have to be around all the time. However, in terms of success, she doesn’t believe she has reached it yet!
Similarly to my philosophy, she encourages people to step into entrepreneurism young, while they have the corporate world as their fallback. “You can lose money but that’s replaceable. The most important part of this process is gaining new experience and knowledge”.
More about Silver Chef
For over two decades, Silver Chef has helped thousands of Australian businesses through an extensive dealer network of over 400 dealers Australia wide. Currently over $100M worth of Silver Chef equipment is helping Australian entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.
Web: www.silverchef.com.au
Phone: 1800 660 656
Mizuya Japanese Restaurant & Karaoke
Basement, 614 George Street, Sydney
Open 7 days, 11:30am – midnight
Web: www.mizuya.com.au
Phone: (02) 9266 0866
Mizuya Japanese Restaurant and Karaoke on Urbanspoon

  • Great post! It’s good to know the history and genesis of places like Mizuya.

  • Very interesting post Jen, good work! It’s great to hear from another perspective and learn about how things become established.

  • Great story Jen. It must be such a massive effort to start a new restaurant. I love the decor of Mizuya, I think you needed to feature a bigger photo of the horse lamp. It is cool.

  • Jen

    You know what, Jessie mentioned that someone had asked for permission to sit on the horse. Was it you? LOL ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Jen

    Thanks! I think it’s amazing what Jessie has achieved at Mizuya! The place just feels bigger every time I’m there!

  • Jen

    Thanks Joey ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Zen

    Wow, what a nice story! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Good on her for taking the opportunities and doing it so young! I like the decor, it’s very trendy and has a great ambience!

  • Love this post! It’s always interesting to see how successful new businesses arise and how much hard work goes into them. I love the green tea soft serve at Mizuya – I get it every time I go!

  • I wish I had Mizuya’s entrepreneurial streak!! And it’s very interesting to know about Silver Chef – I’ve always thought about opening a cafe and it’s good to know there are options out there if I don’t have the capital for a fit out straight away. Thanks Jen for the story!

  • What inspirations!! Hope I can pull something like that down the line one day!
    I’m actually living in Japan at the moment and I have to say that some of those dishes that put out looks better than the ones I’ve eaten! Especially the soft-crab rolls as I haven’t been able to find any Sushi restaurant that serve it!
    You gotta appreciate good Ozzie produce!
    Congrats to Mizuya! Definitely going to be my ‘To visit’ place in Sydney.

  • An inspiring read it was =)

  • Jen

    Yeh it is, she has so much attention to detail, the decor is very well thought out ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Great post! The backstory makes this place even more impressive. Plus it’s a much better use of space than Maloney’s ever was lol

  • Jen

    Thanks, it was definitely an interesting and very inspirational interview with Jessie! And the green tea soft serve – OMGosh, it’s the best!

  • Jen

    That’s so exciting to hear! Good luck with it ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Jen

    Wow, I’m really surprised you haven’t found soft shell crab rolls in Japan! Good luck on your search!
    And yep – I totally agree, Australians have such a great abundance of produce available from all cuisines! We’re very lucky foodies!

  • Jen

    Awesome! It was my pleasure (and Mizuya’s) to bring inspiration to your day ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Jen

    Haha, so true ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Jennifer

    YAY mizuya and umi ๐Ÿ™‚ two of my fave jap places in the city. As a matter of fact, I had lunch at umi today, and will have my 18th birthday party at mizuya…
    And Jen, I’ve got to agree with you, Jessie is indeed an inspirational entrepreneur. I know this because my parents are great friends with her and her family, and even though I’m only a teen, she treats me in a friendly manner. (Her baby is super duper cute as well!)
    Also, I don’t know if I’ve ever written a comment about this, but thank you so much for making such a wonderful website/masterpiece, because during my hsc year, it is the delicious food that is keeping me going! I love reading your entries, and can totally relate to your travel/dining experiences ๐Ÿ™‚ Keep up the fantastic work!

  • Jen

    Awww, you’re so sweet! Thank you so much for your lovely comment – it has made my day ๐Ÿ™‚