In this installment of Meet the Merchant, we speak to Toshi Yoshida of Toshi’s Cafe in Greensboro, North Carolina. Yoshida shares how special it is running a business where customers of more than 15 years continue returning each day.
Our Meet the Merchant series features Q&As with real-world Clover merchants. Read our full catalog for innovative ideas and real-life stories of small businesses in action.
Clover: So, Toshi, why don’t you tell us about how you first got into this business and your own personal background?
Toshi Yoshida: Yes, I am from Japan. I came to the United States in 1993, when I was 21. First, I started helping my friend who owned a flower business in Durham, North Carolina, and then I started my own business making sushi inside Whole Foods. It was called Wellspring at that time. Wellspring was bought by Whole Foods in 1999, so they changed their name. After five years, Whole Foods did not want to renew the sushi contract, and I lost all six of the locations I had. So, I moved to Greensboro in 2005 and started my own business in a single standing building. I started selling flowers because I had the experience as a florist. I was also selling coffee in the same spot. It didn’t do well — probably location wise, and because I was brand new in that area. I was kind of suffering for a while, but a few years later, the North Carolina Department of Transportation came to me and said you must move because of the road widening.
Clover: Oh wow.
Yoshida: Yes. They said they would help me move out when I find a new location. So, I found my current location in a shopping center, and named it Toshi’s Café. I started selling coffee, sushi, and sandwiches, but no flowers. I’ve been in the same location for a little over 10 years.
Clover: Ten years is a long time. Why do you think you’ve been able to stay in business so long?
Yoshida: Yes it is! First of all, I can see regular customers if I sell coffee every day. If I had only a sushi restaurant, I’d probably see regulars once a month, or probably every week if the person has a lot of money, but most customers aren’t coming every day for sushi. Coffee is only a dollar or two for a cup, so I have customers that have been coming almost every day for the last 15-16 years. I enjoy talking to those customers, and some of them even became good friends of mine. That’s one of the reasons why I love this business.
Clover: That’s awesome. You’ve been in this location, operating Toshi’s Cafe for 10 years, and you were doing primarily sushi and coffee and flowers and various iterations of this business beforehand. How has your menu changed over the years, and how do you make decisions on what to serve?
Yoshida: Well, people want to see something new all the time — even the regulars. I’m always thinking about the new things I can add. When I decide to introduce a new menu item, I try to offer it as a special first. Some specials go well, and some specials do not, but those items that do well will stay on the regular menu, and I just take out something I’m not selling as much.
Clover: Okay, so your menu is changing fairly often it sounds like?
Yoshida: Yeah, so about 20 percent of the items brings me about 80 percent of revenue. I do not change those items. Think about it like this. If you go to McDonald’s, they list about six popular items, but when you go to the website, you’ll see maybe over 40 hamburgers, but you see only six items at the shop. I’m pretty much doing the same thing.
Clover: So, what are some of your best sellers? What are some of your menu items that are most popular?
Yoshida: The most popular items are the Crab Supreme and Katie’s Delight. Those are the deep-fried rolls; they are very popular.
Clover: OK. Nice. Your website says that you identify as a family business. Do you have other family members that work in the restaurant with you? How is your family involved?
Yoshida: Of course, my wife helps. We have a seven-year-old, so she doesn’t work every day. She comes after she drops her off at school. She’s kind of our artist–she draws the pictures, she draws the manga, the anime, and she drew the advertisement poster inside the shop that attracts people all the time. Also, my son from my first marriage has become a full-time worker in my place. So now me, my wife, and my son are a team.
Clover: Do you have any other employees also?
Yoshida: Yeah, I have 10 employees right now, 5 full time and 5 part time.
Clover: So, tell us about your relationship with Clover. How did you first decide on using Clover for your payments processing?
Yoshida: Sure. Square was my choice for about 10 years. I first started it in 2012 when they were charging only $275 a month regardless of the volume used on the credit card. Now they’re charging swipe fees of 2.65% and 2.95% for online orders plus a 30-cent swipe fee. So, I decided to explore other options. I was hesitant to sign a contract with Clover at first because in my experience, when I sign a long-term contract, the customer service isn’t good because companies aren’t worried about losing a customer that’s under contract. I decided to give it a try because I hated the Square fees so much. I was mostly worried about the customer service, but Clover provides great customer service. I love it.
Clover: That’s great, I’m happy to hear it. I see that you use the Clover Station Pro in your restaurant, is that correct?
Yoshida: Yes, I use the Clover Station Duo.
Clover: OK, excellent. So, you have a separate screen that the customer can review their order on and accept.
Yoshida: Yes, the little one.
Clover: OK, that’s nice. I know a lot of people have said that’s been very valuable during the pandemic since you’re touching separate screens. You can keep a little bit more distance and you don’t have to touch their credit cards and stuff. Are you familiar with Clover Dining? Clover has a whole system that helps with restaurants.
Yoshida: Yes. I downloaded it once and I tried to use it. If I owned a restaurant, that would probably be my choice, but mine is a cafe. There are not many seating areas, so the application wasn’t for me.
Clover: Oh, sure, that makes sense. You also use Clover Online Ordering, right? Tell us about that.
Yoshida: That’s being set up by my wife so we can set up a pop-up to promote the monthly special and attract people. When people click the pop-up window, it jumps to the Order Spoon, which guides people to the front page of the Clover Online Order system.
Clover: OK, that makes sense. Do you use any other apps in the Clover app market? Are you familiar with the Customer Engagement Suite? Are you using any of the rewards or promos?
Yoshida: We are using a rewards program because we used to have a reward system with Square. So, I did not want to make some customers upset; they’d get mad if I just erased all those points. So, that was the first thing that I set up with Clover.
Clover: That’s great that you value your customers so much. So, how has the pandemic affected you, if at all?
Yoshida: I don’t know the reason why, but I started selling tons of sushi during the pandemic. I mean, I’ve been selling sushi since I started this business, but not like now. I’m still wondering how I started selling much more sushi than before. The pandemic actually helped my business. I set up a little curbside pickup station, and added a doorbell so people could just press the button when they pull up, and then we’d take their food to them outside. But basically, I was doing pretty much the same things during the pandemic except accepting dine-in customers, and sushi sales jumped.
Clover: Are you now open at full capacity? Do you have fewer tables inside? What sort of social distancing requirements do you have?
Yoshida: Yeah. Before the pandemic I had 26 seats total. But now there is a limit in North Carolina, so I have only about 12 seats. I feel like this fits my business right now because my cafe is small anyway, and people have started working at home. They don’t need to go out much these days, but I believe people still need a place where they can meet up. I love that the people who do come here get a chance to see each other – especially after not seeing each other for a year. That makes me so happy, and I feel like this type of joy will never go away.
Clover: Yeah, that’s beautiful.
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