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Hard work, honesty, ability to adapt seen as fundament of success

Restaurant owner looks back on nearly three decades of life in Japan

by Barbara Bayer

Satbhag “Paul” Warraich, president of the Moti chain, is, like his restaurants, somewhat of a Tokyo icon.

A long-term veteran of Japan, Paul Warraich has spent nearly 30 years taking care of the restaurant chain his brother, Sunny, began in 1978 with the Moti Akasaka branch.

The chain currently boasts four Tokyo branches and two in Yokohama, all serving Punjabi North Indian food. Warraich is in charge of all operations, including marketing, purchases, accounts, and policies on food and service.

Warraich joined his brother in 1980 and, though he only officially took over as president some 20 years later, had largely overseen operations from the beginning.

The 52-year-old father of three, who hails from New Delhi, admits that his early days in Japan were hard. “The cultural differences were enormous,” he says, “the first difficulty I felt was the language barrier.”

Secondly, there was a huge culture gap, Warraich remembers. “The language and the culture were big shocks.” At the time Warraich arrived in Japan, “India,” he says, “was still quite behind and Japan was quite modern.”

Warraich does remember being impressed by the honesty and work ethic he encountered in Japan. He still is.

“These are the things I tell people who come to Japan. You need to work hard, be honest, and be honest to yourself. You need to be decent to your coworkers and your bosses. If you do that you can be successful.”

Warraich also advises people “to learn the Japanese system.”

“If you don’t change you will have to struggle more. You need to adjust to the environments of the Japanese.”

Warraich has seen a lot of change over his years here. The Japanese people themselves are different, he believes. He finds them much more open to change and others’ ideas, much more so than when he first came to Japan.

“Now the people coming from India aren’t feeling such a big difference between Japan and India.”

Surprisingly, Warraich explains that despite the influx of foreigners into Japan, the number coming to restaurants has dropped.

“Earlier, the working community was here. The restaurant had about 40 percent foreign customers as compared to 60 percent Japanese.”

Today, Warraich says, the percentage of foreign customers has dropped to 20 percent. In addition to the decrease in workers being sent to Japan, he also sees a change in the Japanese youth as contributing to an increase on the part of Japanese customers.

“Japanese are more open to other cuisines and are being offered a far larger variety of foreign cuisines in Tokyo. When Moti started, Warraich says, the ethnic cuisine offering in Tokyo was “very limited.”

Unfortunately, he says, the large increase in Indian natives coming to Japan has not contributed to his business. “In Indian families, the custom is to eat at home, not out.”

Looking back over his 28 years in Japan, Warraich remembers the bubble years as a standout. “The bubble was the best experience one could have had in Japan,” he says with fondness. “Everything was going so well, everything was looking easy. Everyone was enjoying himself. People were happy.”

“After the bubble, I saw a big change in people. During the bubble, everyone was spending money lavishly. They had confidence in themselves. They were never going to have a challenge in their lives or hard days. But, after the bubble burst they became scared, much like what is happening in the world right now.”

Getting through the hard times and being successful, he says, comes back to the basics. “One has to be positive but you can be positive only if you have good fundamentals, the fundamentals of your thinking,” he says. “You have to have good vision. Positive thinking is needed too, but it must be coupled with experience.

“You need to have experience and you need to base your vision on experience,” he explains.

“With personal philosophy, it’s the same thing, if you’re working hard and you’re honest and your vision is good you can be successful.

“There is always someone making money. When someone is making money, someone is losing money. It all depends where you focus.”

Warraich also says he feels risk is important but, personally, is not one to take great risks.

Repeatedly, he stresses hard work as the key element of success.

“When we see people such as entertainers, we see them when they’re on top of the world, but no one sees how hard they work and how honest they are to themselves.

“When they shine, everyone says, ‘Look at them!’ but when they are struggling nobody sees their struggles. I think the same applies in every field.”

Though Warraich has come to enjoy the restaurant business, he admits it was not always so. “Frankly speaking, I never had the dream of going into the restaurant business,” he says.

“I was in refrigeration and air conditioning. In the beginning, it was very different, but, gradually I started liking it.

“It’s good fun. You meet so many people and you can exchange views with so many and learn so much from the people who come to the restaurants.

“You’re also exposed to the international community. It’s a very good business for human relations. It’s hard, but I think it’s good. I like it.”

The hardest part of the business? “It’s very sensitive,” Warraich says. “You can’t just become friends with everyone. You have to read people, read their moods, watch and only strike up conversations if its feels comfortable. We learn from the customers. They will tell you what they want.”