To start a restaurant, one must first understand the culture. They must know the ins and out of the food industry and they must be able to represent it well.
This is the philosophy that owners Wahida Wahid, 29, and Nur Hidayat, 36, live by on their journey to create Singapore’s first halal Izakaya.
Hararu Izakaya was started a year and three months ago by a husband and wife team who were both mesmerised by Japan, the culture and more specifically, the food.
“I’ve been crazy about Japanese food since I was a kid. I love the skills involved in preparing the dishes and the versatility between the raw and cooked food. I also just love challenging myself to eat really weird stuff,” joked director Nur Hidayat.
However, despite their young age, the duo didn't just get lucky. Rather the pair, who believe that experience counts more then age, worked very hard to get to where they are and to achieve their dreams of starting a restaurant.
Hidayat and Wahida both have been working in the Food and Beverage (F&B) industry for many years. Hidayat started out 21 years ago while Wahida has done 13 years.
“I started out as a dishwasher and a cleaner. Then I started cooking. I slowly worked my way up,” said Hidayat who currently cooks as well as overseas his restaurant.
He added that he felt it was very important to start from the bottom so that you are better able to manage your staff.
“When you take care of your staff, your staff take care of your customers and then the business will flourish,” He added.
The couple met when Wahida was 18 and have since been working together for over 10 years. However, it was ultimately their family which gave them the push to start their own restaurant.
“It was always Hidayat’s dream to start his own restaurant. We actually received three nudges from our family. He cooks for family occasions and each time our family would ask him when he was starting his own restaurant because they really love his food. He kept delaying it by saying it wasn't the right time but by the third time, we decided we just had to do something about it,” said Wahida who currently manages the backend matters of Hararu Izakaya.
However, to start a restaurant one must first be familiar with the culture. To do this, Hidayat and Wahida travelled to Japan multiple times and attended cooking courses there to learn more about what it took to set up an Izakaya.
“We decided to start a halal Izakaya mainly because we wanted to give Muslims more food options. We also really wanted to change some of the perceptions people have about Japanese food being completely raw and strange,” said Wahida.
The couple wanted to create a place where everyone from different races and religions could enjoy a meal together without worrying about dietary restrictions.
When they found a spot along Bussorah Street to set up their restaurant at, the couple jumped at the chance and quickly got to work to set up the place.
“We used a lot of the knowledge and the contacts that we had gained from our years in the F&B industry to get the place up and running and it really helped us to move things a long faster.”
When it comes to hiring staff, the couple is very selective and aims to only employ the best and makes sure that the team feels like they are part of a family.
“I met Wahida and Hidayat many many years ago. We are really good friends. But we know that when we are having fun, it’s fun. When it’s time to work, we work. As long as you can make that distinction, there’s no issue,” said restaurant manager Siti Farah, 30.
“Just like a family, when I have to scold them, I scold. When I praise them, I praise them well. I don’t favour anyone or do anything like that,” said Hidayat about his managing style.
Despite being a young business, the restaurant has been doing well with many notable awards and recognition from top food bloggers and they are set to keep doing better.
“We don’t follow trends. Trends come and go. We focus on authentic Japanese food and about the experience. That’s what we feel sets us apart,” said Wahida.
The couple is also looking into expanding their business and to open up more halal Izakayas around Asia.
When asked what keeps them going, Hidayat explained that it wasn't just a passion for Japanese food but rather a livelihood that they have carved out for themselves.
“It’s not passion. Passions can change very quickly. This here is a livelihood.”
Photos: Hararu Izakaya