teal - Manager
●Where are you from?
I’m from Oji, Kita-ku, Tokyo.
●What type of child were you growing up?
I was really active, the type of girl who would run around outside a lot.
●What were your school years like?
I remember that I liked to be physically active. I wanted to play basketball in junior high school, so I enrolled in the basketball club, but I quit in high school, though.
●What did you spend your high school years doing?
I didn’t really do much! I think I was just having a good time and working part-time.
●I think in high school, there are two types of students: those who focus on club activities and those who focus on part-time work and have a specific goal.
I wasn’t working part-time for any particular goal, but I think I was doing it to pay my own cell phone bill and to reduce the burden on my parents.
●What path did you take after high school?
I decided to go to a technical college so that I could study childcare. My high school teachers were opposed to going, but I wanted to enter the workforce quickly, rather than study for four years. So I chose to study a specialized field and finish within two years.
● How was life at the vocational school?
I had to cram into two years what would normally take me a long time to master, and since I had to do hands-on training, I spent my days studying. I may have studied more than I did in high school!
●What do you remember most?
Practical training. There was a lot to learn, but the majority of the time was spent in practical training. It was fun, but I also remember it being very tiring and hard work.
●What does the practical training involve?
We choose two nursery schools, two kindergartens, and another location, such as an infant home or a children’s home, to complete our practical studies.
●Did the actual training feel different to what you had originally envisioned?
I learned that there is more to children than just their cuteness! The image of playing happily with children was quickly blown away as I quickly had to deal with children getting hurt right in front of my eyes. It was the moment I realized the important role and responsibility of nurturing a human being.
●How many children were at the location you were in charge of?
Depending on the location, a kindergarten would have about 30 children. There were days when I would be put into a class and be in charge of the class for the whole day. I would plan the day’s activities and anticipate the children’s movements. I was nervous, and of course, the children did not behave as expected, so it did not go as smoothly as I would have liked.
●Were you slowly able to get used to it?
I think I was able to get along well with the children because I’m the type of person who can handle things smoothly. However, I had to do more record-keeping than actual planning, and that was difficult. Practicing in the field was still practice, so I had to write more than I feel I should have. There was so many pages of notes, more than the number of children! I didn’t even have time to sleep!
●How long were you able to continue doing childcare?
I left soon after.
●Was it physically difficult to continue?
That was one thing, but it was the human relationships that made me rethink it. I had never had much difficulty with work relationships before, but I guess they didn’t like that I was trying to do everything smoothly, or, to put it less nicely, I was glared at by the other teachers. I was on the receiving end of attacks from colleagues and it made it hard to come to work.
●What did you do after that?
I had not imagined that things would turn out like that, and for a while, I wondered what I would do. I decided to enter the retail fashion industry. I didn’t have a particular vision for the future, rather, I thought I should just do what I had always wanted to do.
●How was your experience in retail fashion?
I was a contract employee and worked there for about four and a half years. It was during a time when I felt like I was floundering. I was about to quit, but the manager there scolded me.
●What did she say?
The manager knew why I had quit my previous job as a childcare worker, and she scolded me, saying, “You can’t keep doing that forever.”
●How did you feel when you were told that?
Well, I thought, ‘let’s try staying and to keep on going’. When that manager was transferred to another store, I ended up following her. I was with that store manager for a long time, simply because we had a connection. When I think about it now, I think that that manager embodies my ideal image of customer service.
● What apparel brand it was?
It was the apparel brand called “THE EMPORIUM” targeting girls in their late teens to early twenties. I worked there for a long time, mainly in customer service.
●What happened after that?
I wanted to work as an employee. I saw my friends who had entered university and it felt to me that they were doing something good for society. I began to wonder about doing a job half-heartedly, and I also wanted to work as a proper employee. ‘World’, the company I was working for, was a large company, so it had an employee promotion system, but with all the high brands also part of the same group, it was almost impossible for smaller brands to have the capacity to hire new employees. Even though I was able to get a raise in my hourly wages, I still really wanted to work as a full-time employee, so I decided to quit.
●Did you find your path after that?
I thought a lot about what I wanted to do. Because I had quit my studies as a childcare worker, getting full time work was difficult, so I started to work as a temp at a childcare center, working late hours.
●So you went back to the childcare field.
I wondered if I would be able to handle it. I was suddenly assigned as a homeroom teacher, but I gradually regained my instincts. Finally, I was asked to join the company as an employee.
●So you finally got to work as an employee?
I did, but I turned down the offer so I could still have a chance to get back into sales.
Once you are qualified to work in childcare, you can always go back. On the other hand, I was thinking that maybe now is the time to do customer service. I’m a very free-spirited person!
●Did you return to retail fashion as a customer service and sales person?
I already had some understanding of the world of apparel, so I decided to try my hand at confectionery. I found a job at CRIOLLO (*1), which was hiring people with no experience. After joining the company, I met Manago, who was the sous chef at the time, and we are now working together at ‘teal’.
A confectionery store with its main store in Kotake Mukaihara, where Santos Antoine serves as pastry chef and Shohei Manago, who opened ‘teal’ with Keisuke Oyama as a sister store of ease, serves as sous chef.
●You began working at Criollo, but what attracted you to customer service?
I felt like it was a good fit for me. Talking to customers and being needed and pleased. There are even people who come in just to see me. I wanted to become the point of contact between people and things.
●What does ‘being the point of contact between people and things’ mean to you?
I believe that being at the point of contact is an important role, similar to a relay race, as at the point of contact you are the last runner to pass the baton. It is the last step; to deliver what the chef has created to the customer, and the value of the product itself becomes apparent. It’s similar to when I was working in apparel, I believed that even the same product can be perceived differently depending on how the customer is treated.
●Can you describe that more specifically?
It’s something that money cannot change. And there is a relationship that develops after a customer purchases something. This is what makes me want to continue serving customers.
●How was it that you suddenly began working at a confectionary store?
Yeah, true… I worked part-time at a cake shop when I was in vocational school. But it was a chain store, so when I tried working at Criollo, I couldn’t read French at all, and I didn’t know the names of some of the French pastries. I panicked because there was so much to remember even for the same customer service. And in the beginning, customers would tell me, “This is what it means, right?” I even had to fake it by saying, “that’s right!” when a customer told me what it actually meant!
●おCan you tell us about teamwork and communication and what it means to you? You were at Criollo for six years, which I think is quite a long time.
When I first joined, I really enjoyed my work and got along great with the other team members. People were always watching out for each other and helping one another. After six years of working there, many of the members changed, and I eventually reached the position of store manager. It made me realize that things like helping each other or giving each other attention or praise is never a given thing.
●What did you do as a manager to restore the team collaboration that you had taken for granted?
I had to think about what I should do to make the best of the situation and how I should act while imagining the team as a whole.
●Surprisingly, that kind of atmosphere can be conveyed to customers the moment they step into a restaurant.
I didn’t have much experience or knowledge, so I studied by visiting other cake stores. I could see things from a customer’s point of view when entering a store. I could easily tell if the atmosphere there was welcoming or not.
●What did you do after you left Criollo?
I wanted to continue the job because I loved it so much, but at the time I was also wanting an office job because physically the job at Criollo was tough. However, I knew that I’d have to take a pay cut, so I thought about becoming a salesperson instead. And then when ‘ease’ opened I was asked to help out. I didn’t enter the company looking for a job, instead, I met with Oyama and he told me, “If you’re going to work, you might as well become an employee”.
●That was your first time visiting ‘ease’ right? What was your impression of Kabutocho?
Honestly, I wondered if the sweets would actually sell in this location. But when I saw the charm of Oyama and other people my age gathering and working hard together, I was able to experience firsthand the feeling that a new tone could be set for the area. That said, it was a businessman’s town, completely different from what I had in mind, so I had a lot of initial reluctance at first, thinking that the way I would serve customers would change!
●When did you move to ‘teal’?
It was November 2021. It was the right time for the opening. ‘ease’ had customers following us, and girls in their 20s and 30s who had never been to the area before, came to our store after seeing us on Instagram.
●I noticed the interesting contrast between the cityscape and the customers. When I passed by ‘teal’ earlier, there was a line of women happily eating gelato in front of the store. The Tokyo Stock Exchange is directly in front of the shop, and Kabuto Shrine is right next to it.
Yeah… The impression of the city has changed a lot compared to when ‘ease’ first opened.
●What is your current role as the manager of ‘teal’?
To be honest, our minds are occupied with what is in front of us. I can’t help but compare it to my time at Criollo, where systems and rules were in place. But ‘teal’ I helped to start from scratch, so we had to do everything ourselves. I think I have to fulfill my role as a person who wants to take the shop to the next level.
●I think that after COVID, the previous equation or process of opening and running a shop no longer works. Is there anything you would like to express in this store in the future through customer service?
I think it is all about realizing what kind of shop the chef wants to make. I want to directly convey the delicious sweets that Manago creates. I want to create an environment that allows us to do that. I think that beyond the obvious things like taste, we need to raise the potential of our products through teamwork and customer service.
●Starting with a new team, how did you manage to ‘break the ice’ and create a sense of teamwork?
With the pandemic, it was difficult to bring the team together through normal communication, but we were able to look at the overall chemistry and individual skills of team members through dialogue to determine how we could build our own restaurant with mutual input.
●What challenges are you currently facing?
I think that the demand or expectations from customers who come to visit ‘teal’ and our ability to serve them are not keeping up with that expectation. The gap between the service demanded and what is actually happening on the ground is growing, and this is affecting the quality of our service. It is not enough to just move quickly. We have to do our best to provide the customer service we seek, the comfort of the eat-in environment, and so on, to the best of our abilities.
●Do you have a particular clientele that you would like to reach?
Personally, I would like to deliver a space that can be enjoyed by the whole family, in addition to the demographic that comes now. People who live in the Kabutocho area also come here with their families and strollers in tow, and I have the sense that the number of visitors is gradually increasing. Since we are still a new store, we would like to take good care of ‘teal’ while making sure that our ideals are not blurred. I think it is important for people to get to know us first, so I think it is my role to connect them to the next opportunity through pleasant customer service.
●I believe that ‘teal’ means blue-green, but what’s the meaning of this for the store?
The duck motif in our logo is derived from the color of the duck’s feathers, which are teal green. The duck is an Egyptian animal symbolizing wealth. Kabutocho is a financial district, and the water transportation industry was originally prosperous in the area, so the floating ducks are a perfect match.
●I didn’t know that that was the meaning behind it! Do you feel like you are about to enter another busy season?
Yes, we are going to be very busy from October to around May, so we are very enthusiastic about that. This is also the first Valentine’s Day since we received some publicity, so I am very nervous!
●What can you tell us about your store’s pastries?
We are a chocolate and gelato store, but the premise is that we use chocolate in all of our products. As for gelato, we also carry items that don’t use chocolate, but the confectionery all uses chocolate as a base. I enjoy the challenge and look forward to seeing what new things they come up with.
●What are your recommendations for snacks?
Our “Jack” cake is a fresh chocolate cake, and it is Manago’s signature cake, so I hope people will try it.
●Finally, what are your goals for the future?
I would like to be able to be more involved in the creation of the store from a manager’s perspective. I am currently working on the shop floor, but I want to develop a position that lets me see the store from a bird’s eye view. I think I can contribute to the team structure and the awareness of each team member, and in turn create a better store together. Now that the team members are finally getting their breathing space, I think work will become more enjoyable. If you are not having fun, there is no point in doing the work! I hope that we can become the kind of shop where every day and every situation will be different.
Born in Tokyo in 1988. After graduating from high school, she entered a technical college for childcare to qualify as a nursery teacher. Her experience in the childcare field gradually led her on a different path toward retail fashion, where she became interested in customer service. Later, she shifted her focus to her favorite pastry shop and worked at ‘Criollo’, gaining experience in a full-fledged patisserie. After quitting, a chance invitation led her to Nihonbashi Kabutocho, where she worked as a sales manager at ‘ease’ before becoming the manager of ‘teal’ in November 2021. Currently, while leading a team, she spends her days connecting things and people through customer service.
Text : Jun Kuramoto
Photo : Naoto Date
Interview : Jun Kuramoto
teal - Manager
Interesting people in Kabutocho
I have been working at the same place as a patissier and a salesperson since my days at Criollo. But since our roles are different, I have never shared deeply with her motivation and thoughts about the products. I would like to ask her how she plans to make this place more exciting.