Cooking up a new way of doing business

Miyuki Nakahara from Izakaya Den

A Business Support Fund grant is helping Izakaya Den swivel to a take-away model during the pandemic.

Exquisite sashimi, a basement bunker address, a dimly-lit, cosy interior… there’s plenty to like about Izakaya Den, the fine dining 90-seat Japanese restaurant in Melbourne’s CBD has garnered plenty of fans since it first started wielding its sushi knives in October 2009.

Business was looking up in the popular eatery, with turnover of $1.8 million in 2018/19 and 20 staff on the books.

Then came the pandemic, requiring the business to temporarily shut up shop.

But a new chapter soon began, in the form of a grant.

“I was following the government announcements and read about the grants offered by the Victorian Government on the Business Victoria website,” recalls Miyuki Nakahara, who owns and operates the business with fellow directors Simon Denton and Takashi Omi.

Miyuki – a Japanese-born restaurateur who has lived in Melbourne for 38 years and has been part of the local fine dining scene since the 1990s – applied for a grant and was successful.

“We received the Business Support Fund Expansion grant of $5000, followed by an additional $5000,” she says. “That helped ease the financial pressure of meeting costs and enabled us to make changes to the business. We put it towards paying outstanding bills, staff holiday pay and superannuation, maintenance work, and to develop our pre-prepared take home meal platform.”

That take-away arm launched in early September.

“Our aim has always been to offer customers the best dining experience possible at the restaurant; for this reason, ‘taking away’ wasn’t part of our business model,” explains Miyuki. “But of course, the pandemic forced us to investigate other ways to recreate the dining experience at home and we now offer three different set dinners at $110, designed to be shared by two people.”

Although she’s excited about the new take-away model, Miyuki is keen to greet dine-in patrons again when that time comes. “I’m looking forward to welcoming back our loyal customers and having more of our staff back with us. Although I foresee challenges ahead – including the fact that the restaurant is below-ground and doesn’t have outdoor dining options at present – I’m quietly excited about reopening the door and starting afresh.”

Not that the current situation is devoid of challenges. “I am grateful for the grant; it helped us," she adds.

And maybe it could help you too if you operate a small business in Victoria, as the third round of the Business Support Fund is now open.

Also keep in mind that businesses in Melbourne’s CBD are supported through the $100 million Melbourne City Recovery Fund partnership between the City of Melbourne and the Victorian Government. Definitely worth checking out.