updated Dec 20, 2014
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Nicolas Koreni. I’m originally from Argentina, grew in the US, and have been in Japan for around 15 years. I studied engineering and Japanese in university, and spent one year studying abroad as an exchange student in Sophia University in Tokyo. After going back to the US and graduating, I couldn’t get an engineering job because the dot-com bubble had just burst, so I found myself coming back to Japan as an English teach for JET. I’ve been here ever since.
After two years of JET, I was able to find work with a real estate development company and that began my career in Tokyo real estate. Afterwards I went freelance working in office interior design, real estate planning, and created Tokyo’s first coworking space in Harajuku. About a year and a half ago I joined Cafe Company.
What do you do in Cafe Company?
I plan and produce new cafes and restaurants. I use my real estate knowledge to find new locations, come up with concepts, menu item ideas, produce new global locations etc. I even still work as a waiter now and then just to keep my hand in the game. I also created this new Global Recruitment program.
How is Cafe Company different from other Japanese companies?
There’s an image of Japanese companies being very stodgy and stifling, and while those types of large companies still exist, most newer companies have a more relaxed atmosphere and they support creativity over conformity. Cafe Company is one of those companies.
Before coming here, I was making coworking spaces that stressed community and people over everything else, and when I first met Kusumoto-san (founder and CEO), I was happy to hear that he shared those same values. When we build a new cafe or restaurant, we’re not looking to have the cheapest product or to expand to as many locations as fast as possible, but to make a place where people can gather, have fun, eat good food, and a place that becomes part of the neighborhood. That’s why we don’t have just one brand, but think up new concepts and menus for each new location.
Why did Cafe Company start this internship program?
The original idea came from my own experiences as an international student here in Tokyo.
When I was studying here in 2000, I decided to get a part-time job. I figured that I could get a restaurant job, and because I liked the Omotesando neighborhood, I went around knocking on doors to 30 or so different restaurants asking if they would hire an exchange student with only limited Japanese. Finally I found a small Mexican place on Cat Street (close to where Cafe Company’s head office happens to be now) that gave me work.
My Japanese level was low at the time, but diving into a situation where I had to understand what was being said to me, where I had to be able to communicate that information improved my Japanese much more than being in a classroom. I also had a lot of fun, and I learned valuable customer service skills, and I got paid for it!
We wanted to offer the same type of opportunity to current students without the hassle of knocking on doors looking for work. And rather than just throwing students into a part-time job position, we wanted to structure it as an internship where we’d actively teach students Japanese and other business skills.
What does Cafe Company get out of it?
We want to broaden our up til now mainly Japan focused community to a more global community (for example, we still don’t have our English language site up. I’m working on it…). This means broadening the types of backgrounds and experiences of our employees. In the coming years, Japan will definitely see more foreigners coming here and our staff need to be able to adapt. Also, we have three locations now in Hong Kong, but want expand further into Europe, the US, and other parts of Asia. We need people who could handle those types of projects.
We know that most interns who come work with us will go back to their home countries or find work somewhere else. We’re starting small, but we want to eventually find more people who want to work with us full-time.
Which are your favorite Cafe Company locations?
They’re all great of course, but spend a lot of time at Public House in Shibuya for a meeting to get some work done, A971 in Roppongi for a good dinner, or Señor Doichan in Aoyama for a quick drink after work.