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Meet Frank Oyama of CAN-ZO in Gardena

Today we’d like to introduce you to Frank Oyama.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
During the fall of 2013, as a property manager of a shopping mall, I was contemplating as to what to do with the small, empty 800 sq. ft. space.

What can I do with this space? It’s not what I can do, but it’s what should be done suitable for space. Then, one day a friend came to visit me from Japan. When he told me about “Canned Food Bar”, which was very popular in Japan at that time, I instantly knew “That’s it.” A canned food bar displays over 200 different canned food on the shelves collected from all over the world. Customers pick what they want from the shelf, bringing them to their table and enjoying the food with their drinks. This is definitely a unique style of bar! I was excited about this new type of bar.

I soon arranged to fly to Japan to visit Tokyo. I visited 5 canned food bars in Tokyo and Yokohama and came to a conclusion that it did not require much capital to open such a bar. Besides, an expensive chef was not necessary and I thought anyone can operate a bar easily. However, it took me more than a year after the trip to Japan to open a canned food bar. When I finally opened Can-ZO in January 2015, customers came to the bar by the words of mouths; I never formally advertised. It appeared to become a success.

After a while, canned food did not sell as I had expected and CAN-ZO became just a bar. In the meantime, the manager turnover was quick and in a short period of time I went through three different managers. As a result, the menus for food and drinks changed as well as clienteles. The daily revenue went up and down like a roller coaster.

In January 2016, I began to concentrate in serving wine and tapas, carefully selecting more than 40 different wines and CAN-ZO has been established as a current business style, “Wine and Tapas.” We continue to serve our original main idea of canned food, but high quality selected ones only, mainly the products made in Spain. The number of canned food we serve has been drastically decreased, but the number of customers, who enjoy those high -end quality ones, has been gradually increasing. We have many repeat customers. In addition, as we serve cheese plates, caprese, smoked salmon, pizza, Thai curry, etc. as good accompaniments, the customers enjoy their drinks of choice: wine, beer, Japanese sake and shochu.

On weekends, we put on events like live Jazz and DJ night. CAN-ZO is now a “small hidden place for adults” to enjoy delicious wine and tapas and pleasant music at one spot. After two and a half years of opening, customers continue to find us by the words of mouths and the number of new and repeat customers has been increasing.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has never been smooth. At first, in order to open a business, there were many steps to take: planning, various permits, especially city, health department, ABC (alcohol, beverage control), the process of which is complicated, time-consuming and expensive. I often wondered and was nervous if I ever get the permit. After meeting with the first general contractor and ABC agent, it took six months to obtain the permits for plumbing, electric and interior remodeling and more than 12 months to obtain beer and wine license. In the meantime, I had to attend public hearings three times, communicate with the city many times and submit a complicated filing to ABC. The long wait at the government agencies and every step was horrendous. I was so shaken up at every step that I doubted if I would get through the process.

As far as the employee issues are concerned, I did not have difficult times as a friend of mine had agreed to be a manger before opening and I was able to find other staff easily.

For six months prior to opening, after finishing my regular work, I spent a lot of time testing and creating menus using canned food: how can I make delicious dishes out of canned food and how can I present the dishes in appealing ways? I began to realize how difficult it was to create delicious menus out of canned food.

Although I was holding a job during the daytime, in order for me to understand the business first hand, I worked at CAN-ZO with the staff, greeting customers and doing dishes every day for six months. I was already 60 years old. I really felt it was beyond my limit physically and mentally. The fact that I hired a friend of mine as a manger turned out to be a mistake as I could not talk to him candidly. My opinions often differed from the ones from the manager and the staff. As a result, I became so frustrated that I had to fire them. After that, the manager was changed twice. As the manager changes, menus, business style and clientele changed. Although I was anxious as an owner, not being able to see the future of CAN-ZO, I have been moving forward gradually with daily efforts, believing that CAN-ZO will succeed. Now, I began to see the future of my business as the business has been progressing slowly, but surely.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the CAN-ZO story. Tell us more about the business.
In 2013, I set up ALL WIN TEAM LLC with my business partner, Max Matsunami, to open CAN-ZO (DBA).

Mr. Matsunami is my boss and the owner of the shopping mall, where CAN-ZO is located. He gladly agreed with my business idea and became a 50% owner. I am grateful to him as well as to my staff. My staff is all part-time workers, but they are always creative, making constant efforts for CAN-ZO. I am very proud of them. Mr. Matsunami trusts me, leaving all the operations to me.

The one person I can never leave out is my wife, Ayako. She has been working in accounting for a long time and she gives me crucial advice in accounting for CAN-ZO. Without her dedicated help, I believe I could not maintain CAN-ZO. I am grateful to her.

My main job is to manage commercial properties, managing shopping malls. For 25 years, I have been managing three South Bay shopping malls. In addition, as a realtor I sell a few residential properties annually.

My specialized field is real estate. Since I started CAN-ZO, I sometimes feel I should quit CAN-ZO when I get so busy holding down three jobs. However, when I go to CAN-ZO at night and see the happy smiles of customers and staff, I get excited, stirring my energy to continue CAN-ZO.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Throughout my life, I have been very lucky meeting good people, having good jobs and good opportunities. How blessed I have been! In 1978, at the age 24 I came to America with a guitar on my shoulder, wishing to become a famous musician without any definite plan. All I had was just a dream. I am 63 years old now and I feel how lucky and fortunate I have been. After the age 60, I found new challenge, CAN-ZO.

Pricing:

  • Wine : $8 + per glass $30 + per bottle
  • Other drinks : $7 +
  • Tapas : $8 +

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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