Tatsuo Kan’s journey from immigrant to local restaurant owner

Credit to Author: Ramya Ramanathan| Date: Thu, 19 Mar 2020 15:04:02 +0000

Immigrant entrepreneur Tatsuo Kan calls Okanagan Valley home.

Tatsuo Kan is no stranger to moving countries. Born in China to a Japanese war-orphan father and a Chinese mother, the family moved to Japan when he was 11 years old. He started learning Japanese for the first time then. After graduating University in Japan, he traveled around the world. He met his wife, Kanako, in Tucson, Arizona, and they eventually moved back to Japan in 2003.

A serial entrepreneur, Kan started and ran a couple of successful businesses in Tokyo. In 2014, he moved with his growing family to Canada in search of a simple life. He says that destiny did not allow his life to be so simple. Kan opened a Japanese restaurant KOJO Penticton in 2017, and more recently, KOJO Westside.

Kan is now the proud father of four children and calls Okanagan home.

Tell us about your journey to Canada.
After I graduated college in Japan, I spent some time travelling in the US, which is where I met my wife, Kanako. When we returned to Japan, we started a group home for mentally handicapped people – it was joyful work for me. Life was wonderful but eventually, I needed something more challenging. We were watching TV one day about the catering industry and decided to go into that field since I can make sushi, I like people and I like change – it sounded like a perfect job!

My catering business was successful, but I worked 24/7. I was burned out and had no time for my wife and children. We decided to move in order to have a simple life. We originally considered moving to the US on an investment visa and almost ending up buying a restaurant in Idaho – but it was complicated since we had to invest, run a business and prove that it was successful before we could get the visa.

We then looked at Canada and found that if I invested the money, and opened a business, we could get our PR status in a couple of years. I made a trip to Vancouver – I didn’t know anyone there. I ended up talking to a sushi chef at a high-end restaurant who connected me with a lawyer who said we had a good chance of getting our PR in Canada.

We moved in 2014 after my work permit came through and I later applied for the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP).

Tell us about your move to the Okanagan Valley.
We initially lived in Vancouver but being from Tokyo, we had decided we would not live in a big city. We checked out Vancouver Island, Calgary, and then almost ended up in Kelowna, B.C. We then heard of this beautiful place called Okanagan Valley and found this small town called Summerland that we liked and moved here in 2016. This was the start of my Canadian dream.

How did you get from being an immigrant to a local restaurateur?
I was working in a Ramen shop during my first couple of years in Canada. After we moved to the Okanagan valley, we were planning to open a take-out sushi place because we knew we were good at it. And, we also were a young family who wanted to make friends.

I got lucky! I ended up finding a restaurant that had been closed with high-end equipment and when we expressed our interest in taking it over, the owner said yes!

It was much bigger than what I wanted but I had a good feeling. I was nervous since it was a small town of 30,000 people which already had a few Japanese restaurants. On opening night in 2017, I didn’t know if anyone would come. But the people kept coming, and thankfully, they continue to do so.

We reached 25 employees in 2018. I had brought on board more chefs since the demand increased and sales had doubled. But I found myself working too many hours. So, when I told my staff I was planning to downsize, they said they were happy here, and someone suggested we open another location. I picked one of the staff to manage the place and opened our second location in 2019. 

What key challenges did you have to overcome and how did you handle them?
Initially, making friends in the Okanagan Valley was challenging. People were nice but it was hard to get close to people. But eventually, I learned that if people know you have a passion, if you are hardworking, you do build connections and figure out how to tell the people who you are, and they eventually accept you.

English was also a big challenge. But I took lessons with the South Okanagan Similkameen Immigrant and Community Services. I also took personal lessons and learned on the job.

 What do you like the most about your new home?
Life is simple. Life is good and my business is a success. I am able to spend time on work and with family. Nature is beautiful in Okanagan, seasons are beautiful and people are nice – they respect each other. This is home – I don’t plan to move from here.

What inspires you to do what you do?
My plan was to have a simple life here – but it’s so much more. I can see the impact that I make on my employees and our customers on a daily basis. It’s more than just the food or the restaurant. I can see my employees grow and they have found something meaningful in their lives. I can see the people living around here who come to my restaurant, not just for the food but also for the atmosphere and the environment that we have created.

What is your advice to newcomers to Canada?
Respect the Canadian culture and try to bring in the best your culture. Each country has something special.

If you want to do something – don’t be afraid, try! Make a start – search the internet or go visit someone who might have the information you need.