Kenjiro “Hatch” Hashida

UPDATE: Looks like Chef Hatch will be back in Singapore in due time.

[dropcap size=small]H[/dropcap]e may have exited Hashida Sushi in Singapore, but the chef who made it one of the most popular Japanese restaurants in town is set to literally export his name overseas.

It was announced on June 21 that Kenjiro ‘Hatch’ Hashida had joined forces with listed company Lifebrandz to head Cloud Eight – the latter’s new F&B subsidiary that will open sushi restaurants in San Francisco and Tokyo under the Hashida Sushi International brand.

He may reopen in Singapore but not just yet, says Chef Hashida in an exclusive interview from San Francisco, where he is putting the finishing touches to his first Hashida Sushi restaurant that is opening this August in Hotel Abri, located in the city’s buzzing Union Square.

The “closing” of Hashida Sushi Singapore is not a physical one but more his parting of ways with the management, which still maintains the existing space at the Mandarin Gallery. It reopened on June 21 as Sushi Ayumu, aptly translated as “a new start”. It is helmed by Chef Ryoichi Nakatani, one of the remaining chefs. Chef Hashida no longer has any connection to the business and has retained the rights to use his name in his other new ventures.

(RELATED: Where is Hashida Sushi going – and what’s replacing it?)

Besides the San Francisco outfit, he is also renovating his father’s restaurant in Kachidoki, Tokyo, where Chef Hashida was working before relocating to Singapore in 2013 to open Hashida Sushi.

“This is an entirely separate establishment from the San Francisco one as it was always my intention to rebuild and reopen even before (Lifebrandz came along),” he explains. It’s still a work in progress with no opening date set but “I hope it will coincide with that of a ‘new era’ that sees me eventually taking over my father’s business in Japan”.

As to why he decided to leave the Singapore restaurant, he turns sanguine. “We need to relook our future and what we want in life. Singapore and Tokyo have given me many opportunities for which I am very grateful, but the Tokyo restaurant still represents my roots as the origins of the Hashida brand, which was nurtured by my father for more than 53 years.

“With this, we need to rebuild and reposition to keep up with the times. So whether it is San Francisco or other cities, I want to be able to shape the brand’s presence accordingly.”

And no, Hashida Sushi itself was not losing money. “It has always been profitable. Competition is and always will be there. In 2016, we gave up Hashida Garo (a dessert-centric tea house) to create bigger premises for Hashida Sushi. The bottom line is that my decision to move has nothing to do with profitability, but simply a change in strategic direction which I believe is best for the Hashida brand.”

Hashida was first an artist – artistic principles still guide his cooking, and vice-versa.

Several of his chefs from the Singapore restaurant have also followed him, and will be given positions in his new projects. Some of them will manage the San Francisco outlet, while Chef Hashida himself will “visit frequently to ensure the standards of service and quality are adhered to”.

For the moment, he is focused on the San Francisco and Tokyo projects, although more are definitely on the cards with his new company Cloud Eight. It is part of parent company Lifebrandz’s aggressive push into F&B, as CEO Hiroyuki Saito has said that he plans to open high-end sushi restaurants in San Francisco and New York. And of course, Singapore.

Chef Hashida is also pursuing pop-up restaurants to raise awareness of the Hashida brand without opening fixed premises.

He recently completed a collaboration titled Project Evolution in Jakarta, where he tied up with Singaporean handbag designer Ethan K and Indonesian artist/photographer Angko Purbandono for a series of lifestyle events to marry food, art and fashion. Up to seven guests at a time could enjoy his omakase lunch or dinner while browsing through displays of Ethan K handbags and Purbandono’s photographs, all in a specially refurbished shipping container. The event was overbooked, with hundreds vying for a spot.

He hopes to bring this concept to other parts of the world, and showcase the talent of his chefs at the same time. “So instead of aiming to grow Hashida Sushi in terms of restaurant numbers, it’s a way of promoting great dining experiences under the brand.”

Although he is not a Singapore permanent resident and his wife is a Thai national, “Singapore is my second home”. He adds: “I am not leaving Singapore and will certainly be returning whenever I can. Like any business or professional person, we need to travel for our work, but where I am and what I do will still be based in Singapore as always.”

It has been a whirlwind journey for the chef who “came to Singapore at the age of 33 and in the blink of an eye I have turned 39”. The media darling also became a celebrity of sorts with his flamboyant dressing style and “rocker” chef persona.

(RELATED: Sushi chef x artist: Kenjiro Hashida)

While he was a regular winner at restaurant award events, one accolade has eluded him – a coveted Michelin star, which many expected him to achieve when the guide made its debut in 2016.

However, “I am neutral towards such forms of recognition. I just want my diners to be happy with my food. I find it difficult to define ‘success’, but I’m thankful to the media, business associates and friends for all the opportunities I have enjoyed”.

As for his next step, it looks like the world is now his oyster.

Memory Lane: Spend a day in the life of Chef Kenjiro Hashida (while he was in Singapore).

This article was originally published in The Business Times.