We are Aime and Pedro. We are a Mexican couple that fell in love with Japanese cuisine, specifically the taishu shokudo.
With a lot of respect and love, we have strived to evoke the experience of popular Japanese eateries. Our shop’s name is “Tama Shokudo,” named after our cat, Tama. In this little space in Mexico, we want Japanese people to feel at home, and for the local people to learn more about Japanese food.
In 2014 we began our project, learning little by little about the typical neighborhood food of Japan. We discovered more by researching, reading, and making a lot of mistakes until we felt we were ready to open; this is when Tama Shokudo was born in 2018.
Nowadays, our specialties are teishoku and agemono, made using local ingredients and importing what is necessary, modifying it to the Mexican palate without diminishing its true essence.
Our Path Hasn’t Been Easy
When we opened our shop seven years ago, we knew very little about Japanese cuisine. We began the project along with a Japanese friend who, due to unforeseen circumstances, was not able to continue living in Mexico. We tried to continue with our plan of opening a Japanese eatery but, being guideless, we ended up making mistakes. Little by little, we began to learn about the Showa-style diners in Japan and we fell in love with the concept; we decided to learn more about this type of dining that didn’t exist in our city. We wished to be the first, the pioneers of this kind of eatery that we find very beautiful due to the traditional feeling that they carry and the fact that there are so few of them outside Japan, especially in Mexico.
For the last seven years, it’s been quite difficult to keep our business afloat and help it grow. One of the reasons for this was the cultural differences that made it difficult to introduce an unfamiliar cuisine to our Mexican customers. However, we adapted and never stopped learning, striving to help more and more people know about Japanese cuisine and show them how delicious it is!
The way Japan and its culture has arrived in our lives is a gift, as we had never visited the country before; this also made us worry about the trust our customers had in us. But we were able to discover Japan in unexpected ways. One of those was thanks to a Japanese TV program that changed our kitchen forever and brought us closer to Japan.
We Appeared on Japanese TV!
In August, 2018, we received a message from the Japanese program “SEKAI! NIPPON IKITAI HITO OUENDAN” offering to visit and document our business. We were very happy and excited. We decided to participate, thanks to a Japanese friend who was familiar with the show.
At first, we weren’t sure if our project was interesting enough, due to our shop being so small and having such limited equipment. However, a little bit later we received news that we were traveling to Japan!
Our trip there was very enlightening. We learned to cook dishes like shogayaki, yakiniku, korokke, curry and pako, and a very special and secret recipe from the owner of “Sankatsuya” in Gifu, which was taught to us as a present!
We have no words to describe the happiness we felt traveling to Japan for the first time. Seeing the local Japanese kitchens that we admire and love so much firsthand, we were extremely moved and shed tears of emotion.
When we came back to Mexico, we felt more confident in offering an authentic experience to all of our customers.
The first couple of programs about our restaurant were very successful with the Japanese audience, and Tama Shokudo became an obligatory stop for the Japanese tourists that visited our city. For over a year, we received several Japanese customers that chatted with us, had lunch with us and took photos. It was like a dream!
Our finances also improved; every day we had several reservations. We were able to buy new furniture for the shop, hire new employees, buy uniforms for everyone and even buy a small car to help us to carry the heavy shopping that we have to do every week. We began to see a path open for the future: to move the shop to a new place, bigger and with better equipment that would allow us to offer more and better dishes to everyone. Sadly, that never happened.
Our Love for Japan Helped Us Again
As everyone knows, the COVID-19 pandemic hit globally and the quarantine and social distance restrictions began in Mexico in March 2020. We closed Tama Shokudo for 15 days to prepare a strategy that would allow us to continue the business and not close permanently. We had to hire a delivery service, and our sales dropped, but our expenses stayed the same.
Since 2018, thanks to the high sales, we had savings which we planned to use to visit Japan again and expand our business. However, those savings were disappearing little by little since the pandemic began, used to keep our business afloat and cover our monthly expenses. Regarding government stimulus, small businesses like us were offered a loan-like financial help; but if the pandemic went on for too long or there was a second outbreak of the virus, we would have just gotten in debt, therefore we didn’t take it. It is thanks to our savings that our business has not died yet, and that we believe that our love for Japan, and that desire to save up to visit it again, has kept our business alive.
The Next Step for Tama Shokudo
Though with the passage of time we have improved our kitchen and cooking, our main limitations are our equipment and space. Since the beginning, we have cooked with electrical and induction stoves, as the place we rent does not allow us to use gas. But we feel we need to cook with fire to truly offer high-quality dishes that really evoke the flavor of Japanese cuisine and earn a good reputation among the locals.
The more people we meet and the more customers we get, the smaller our shop feels, and our equipment seems less and less sufficient. One of our main problems is the speed of our service, because when we cook with several electrical devices the process becomes slower and the customers have to wait a long time for their meals.
With your help we will be able to:
- Rent a more comfortable space where customers can enjoy their meals with adequate social distance and where we can install proper and suitable cooking equipment. We already have a place in mind. It is not that expensive considering its size and it might be easier to access.
- Decorate our shop to make our customers feel that they are in a little corner of Japan.
- Buy appropriate equipment that allows us to cook dishes like chahan, omurice, yakisoba, yasai itame, gyoza, gyudon, etc.
- Buy gas range stove tops to accelerate our cooking process
- Acquire an alcohol-sale permit which, in our city, costs around 3,500 USD.
- Increase our range of Japanese crockery, which is difficult to obtain in our city.
- We would like to hire additional staff in order to be able to cater to an increasing number of customers.
(We know how important it is for Japanese people to eat a delicious meal with their favorite beer!)
With your help, we will be able to continue promoting and spreading traditional local Japanese cuisine in Mexico!