For current owner Mike Arai, C’est Japon à Suisha (formerly Suisha Gardens) wasn’t just a place to work, it was a way to move to Canada from Japan. In 1979, Mike saw an ad for a position at the Ottawa restaurant and immediately applied. After an initial rejection, he was finally hired in 1981 and immigrated to Canada. Over the years he worked his way up within the restaurant, and finally took over ownership in 1995. Their menu has adapted over the years, but their focus remains on handmade sushi, tempura, and other traditional Japanese foods.
Unlike most other Japanese restaurants, C’est Japon à Suisha didn’t offer takeout or delivery before the pandemic. Mike’s wife Jane Smith believes that the quality of dine-in service suffers when restaurants spread themselves too thin and offer takeout and delivery as well. This focus on dine-in made the mandated closure of all restaurants particularly difficult for them to navigate. After two months of complete shut-down, they re-opened for takeout only on May 12th and remained closed for dine-in until July 21st.
“We’ve never done delivery, and those third-party delivery apps are really costly to use.” Explains Jane. “We rely on our loyal customers to come in and pick up their food in-person. Besides, the quality of food wouldn’t be the same by the time the delivery service gets it to our customer.”
With this extensive closure period of two months, the restaurant had to downsize from twenty-two employees to merely nine. The staffing reduction is partly because the restaurant’s sales aren’t where they were pre-pandemic, but also due to capacity constraints. There simply isn’t enough room to house twenty-two staff members as well as customers. With no patio and no feasible way to put tables into the streets like many other restaurants, their restaurant downsized from 150 seats to merely five tables on the main floor.
Even with more tables, their typical customers are missing in action. As a restaurant located right downtown, the closure of parliament has left them without their usual lunch break rush. As for tourism, fewer visitors are in the City, leading to less business for C’est Japon à Suisha and many other restaurants in the area.
“It’s crazy how hard it has been for restaurants, who already have super thin profit margins.” States Jane. “We were hoping to retire and pass on ownership to our long-term employees, but it feels like we’re back at square one. We hope that we can make it through this, and continue to serve our loyal customers.”
For more information on C’est Japon à Suisha, please visit https://japaninottawa.com/.