I only got yelled at once haha...
What are you up to?
I work as a Real estate solution provider where I do research and consulting for real estate developers. I’m also planning on applying to an urban planning school since my actual goal was to be a teacher. And, of course, I have the PrumPlum Umeshu bar.
How did you get started with PrumPlum?
This place actually used to be a coffee shop owned by one of my undergrad professors. It was called ‘Cafe 352’. I was always working on school projects at Cafe 352 and I got very close to all the people who worked there and fell in love with the atmosphere. I thought it was a cafe that all cafes are supposed to be like. You go there to talk to people, meet new people with different expertise that you can exchange thoughts with. It was super chill.
One day my professor told me that she was going to close the cafe down and I was pretty upset about it (laughs). I had always thought about turning this coffee shop into a bar after its closing time at 6 pm, so when she asked if I want to take it on, I said yes. It’s a perfect spot for a nice small bar. I told her I want to build a bar that has the same vibe with the coffee shop. We agreed and I started working on it right away.
However, I had just gotten my first full-time job as I was setting up this bar so the timing was very hectic.
Why Japanese plum wine?
I like it (laughs). My intention was also to manage this bar as a hobby so I based things on my own preference. I want the mood to be personal.
I found my passion for plum wine when I went to Japan for a short exchange program with school. There are so many types of plum wine in Japan. I wanted to share all these new plum wine discoveries with my close friends. Now I feel the same way about sharing it with my customers.
FIRST THING FIRST!
What was the first thing that you did?
I got 2 other friends involved and we did some field research, finding all the existed plum wine in Thailand and tried them all. We were practically exchanging our livers for knowledge. I also had to talk to my friend who was a lawyer about legal stuff about opening a bar.
How did you come up with the menu?
We only have around 10 types of plum wine at first and one of my friends came up with bistro menu since we thought that would pair up nicely with the wine. We didn’t hire anyone else to do anything and the whole place was run by just the 3 of us. One of us cooked, one was a bartender, and I was the waiter. That was the vibe we wanted to bring over from the coffee shop. We later had to make some adjustments to the menu and changed to Japanese comfort food as we learned to be more efficient with cooking and serving food. We also introduced more wine.
How was the soft opening?
It was in August 2016. We had a soft opening party where we invited in total 60 people we knew and basically tried to run the bar. We closed the bar after that day and fix things we thought we needed to fix before we actually open the month later.
We only opened from Wed-Sun at first and 3 of us came after work to run the bar. It went well and we got people interested. A lot of people came. Got a lot of good feedback from the customers about kind of drinks they like and what kind of food they prefer.
Since the place is small, do you get any noise complaints?
Our place has a lower level with small tables and an upper level for big groups. The noise from the upper floor actually doesn't reach down. The problem is actually when the small tables talk loudly. We’ve gotten some complaints about that and we found out about it on Google Reviews…
What was the biggest issue so far?
The timeline was crazy when we started. I was juggling still being in the probation period at a full-time job and opening a bar. We would have a lot of customers on Friday nights and we would stay until 3-4am to close and clean the place and then I would wake up around noon the next day and come to the bar around 3 pm to set up, and this goes on in a loop. Even my sister had to come help after her work too. Pretty intense but it was fun. Luckily, my full-time job, the bar, and my house are not too far away from each other.
What was a challenge of opening a bar?
I think customer service. How to take care of the customer, how to take the orders or recommend products, and even knowing the pairing of the food and drink menu. 4 months after the opening, we re-prioritized this bar in our lives as not only a hobby but something more serious than that. We finally hired a bar manager.
How did people know about your bar?
We got lucky because the Matter magazine posted about us. They actually secretly interviewed me which was pretty funny. They came to sit at the bar and start talking to me with her phone awkwardly flipped down. I could definitely tell that she was recording our conversation. Next thing I know someone tagged me in on the post on the Matter and then people started pouring in. They actually wrote more about plum wine but we got pretty lucky to be featured in there.
Is too many customers a problem for you?
Actually sometimes yes, because our place is small. Walk-ins can be a problem also because our bar isn’t located in the ‘bar zone’. We feel bad when customers intentionally come to us and don’t get a seat and can’t walk to the other bars. I try my best to accommodate with that and sometimes write them a discount coupon when this happens.
What's the table booking system?
We only take reservations until 8 pm on peak days. We noticed that there are 3 groups of customers between our open time which is 6pm-midnight. We have people who come for our happy hour after work from around 6-8pm, another group comes in around 7 pm or 8 pm and stay until midnight, and the last group comes after other restaurants close around 10 pm to get a few drinks before heading home. We close the reservation at 8 pm so turn 2 group can come before that and get their tables, and then turn 3 group usually call in first and see how things are.
How do you import the drinks to your bar?
I have Japanese suppliers and each of them has connections with different liquor owners. They would send a catalog every month. For special ones that I want, I would ask them to help me import it. The ones we bring back from Japan by ourselves are mostly for our own testing and research.
How are the customers
I have the best customers. They are very patient and understanding. I only got yelled at once haha.
I got yelled at!
Why did you get yelled at?
Last year on Valentines Day, we had an event that let single people come and tell us sad love stories in exchange for a drink. It was so funny, people would cry telling the story and everyone would cheer. It was a very successful event and very full of people. I think we got around 100 people in total that night. Anyway, we didn’t have enough tables and that angry customer found me while I was moving a customer’s car in the parking lot. And yea, we got yelled at but it’s ok.
What's for the future?
Now we open everyday except Monday. There are no big future plans for now but we are trying to improve on small things all the time. We want to keep improving our service and invest more in making the place looks nicer.
Ultimately want to keep the vibe of a ‘homey Izakaya that mainly sells plum wine’.
What's your day-to-day schedule like?
I have a full-time job during the day and then around 3-4 times a week I go check the bar. I mainly take care of the PR and marketing, promotions, building new customer based etc. I can work on my computer and my partner takes care of the operation.
How do you take care of yourself?
I had to drink so much alcohol when we opened this bar. It was for both research and to entertain people, and I was doing that for months. Then I got used to just drinking alcohol all the time. I found out that I didn’t need to drink so much alcohol because I was actually mostly just thirsty. I drink water now.
I also try to play tennis 2 times a week before work.
Do you travel a lot?
I go to Japan for ‘work’. I made friend with a Japanese guy who is super passionate about plum wine so I went to see his plum farm and his plum wine research lab in Japan, and we always see each other now when I go.
Where do you shop?
I shop all the time. I love shopping. I like Uni Qlo for daily clothes and I also really like Massimo Dutti (although all of the shirt sleeves are always way too long).
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