• Claire Wu

20 Years in New York's Restaurant Industry: Norikoh Owner Honors Her Roots In Cooking

After being in the restaurant industry for two decades, Kristina Noriko Pan, the owner of Japanese fusion restaurant Norikoh, happily announced the grand opening of Norikoh’s second location in the Chelsea area at the end of last year.

Pan has had a connection with Japanese food and culture long before she worked in the Japanese restaurant industry. Under the influences of Japanese occupation, Pan grew up eating Japanese food her grandmother prepared as she was accustomed to the Japanese way of cooking. Without knowing the history background of her family, Pan always thought of it as Taiwanese food.

Just like any other immigration stories, Pan came to the United States over 30 years ago to follow the American Dream. In 2000, she joined Haru Sushi, a Japanese fusion restaurant that was acquired by Benihana, as a hostess and thus embarked on her journey of being a restaurant owner.

Pan said she was very lucky to work side by side with Barbara Matsumura, the founder of Haru, as this opportunity allowed her to learn about restaurant operations. She was then promoted as the assistant manager only three months after joining Haru.

Though Pan left the company to open her own restaurant, she still returned to Haru two years later. Pan rejoined Haru as the sales representative for the delivery department and had reached a $4.4 million revenue at its peak. After two years' time, she was promoted as the General Manager for Haru’s Time Square branch, the branch that has the best sales record.

Having been worked for Haru Sushi for 12 years, she realized that she had to resign and “do something for [herself].” Despite the difficulties of opening a restaurant with almost no help in the early stages, in 2014, utilizing the knowledge of restaurant business operations she gained from her experience at Haru, Pan opened the first Norikoh at 10 E 39th Street.

While the restaurant started as a sushi restaurant, Norikoh Ramen, the one and only ramen on the menu at the time, quickly gained popularity among customers. “When people compared my ramen to [some of the big chained ramen], it encouraged me to create more,” said Pan. From there, she and the chef worked together to create a wide variety of ramen that can also be seen on their menu today. Above all, she also included a traditional Taiwanese beef noodle soup into the menu in part to represent her origin.

Over the years, as the restaurant gained its popularity amongst Asian food enthusiasts in the city, Pan began her search for the second location of Norikoh and the rest is history.

Speak of Restaurant Operation

“The people are very important,” said Pan when speaking of the tips of restaurant management. Taking from her experience as General Manager at Haru Sushi, she realized that as a leader it is important to make sure every staff knows their role and most importantly, is on the same page — make everyone coming in feel welcomed.

“I don’t want to say I’m a very successful person, but I know [I need to find the right people] to help me out,” Pan said, “I cannot do everything by myself.”

Pan emphasized that it is important to form a team that’s willing to work together towards their mutual goal at Norikoh, and her approach is to keep her employees happy. “Money is important, but it’s the people that are running the business,” Pan said. The key to “keep the employees happy” is trust, according to Pan. “Trust” is the most important element when it comes to strengthening the bond of the team. Speaking from her personal experience, Pan understands that the employees need a breathing space. That’s why, while she “only ask[s] for discipline,” she would “never stay side by side to oversee everything.”

Another factor that’s just as important when opening a restaurant is the food, Pan shared. Here at Norikoh, Pan strives to provide quality food at a reasonable price and insisted that the quality maintains at its best even when the economy had gone bad. “I have very good confidence about the food here,” Pan said. Not only does she reviewed and made every dish to make sure it surpasses her standard before it goes on to the menu, but she also emphasized that she refused to use any concentrates. Everything served at Norikoh is made from scratch to better control and maintain the quality. “I want to make sure all the food is quality and really put a lot of heart into the food we make,” Pan said.

While the second location of Norikoh had just opened, Pan had already made plans for the expansion of her restaurant — making Norikoh a chain. “I don’t know if I can make that happen, but I’ll try,” Pan said, “I give myself ten years time before I retire, I want to make sure I can expand Norikoh as much as I can within this ten years.”

*Japanese version published in Kigyo Gaikyo April 2020

6 views0 comments