If you are familiar with the café scene around Waseda University, you have probably went to, or heard of a place called “Foru Café”. While this café may seem like any other you’d stumble upon in a college town, it is unique because it is owned and operated entirely by Waseda students.
Yukina Hirai, a senior in Waseda University’s School of Politics and Economics, is the founder of Foru Café. Although she is still a student, she managed to build Foru Café from the ground up, as well as manage all the day-to-day operations. Recently, as Foru Café celebrated its one-year anniversary in August, Yukina has publicly registered her own company, Foru Style, and serves as the CEO. We were lucky enough to have the chance to sit down with Yukina and ask her about Foru Café, her experience running her own business, and her future plans for the café and herself.
1. Why did you decide to open Foru Café?
I have always loved food, and when I entered university I began to work part-time in restaurant kitchens. From that point, I was fascinated by the culinary world. I worked at the famous pancake restaurant, Bills, at the Omotesando branch, and through that connection I was able to go on a working holiday to the original store in Sydney.
After I returned from my working holiday, I did various things, such as cooking classes and catering. Also, once every month on a Sunday, I would borrow a café that wasn’t being used, and hold these events. We would be getting reservations from 100 people a month in advance, and that’s when I decided to open Foru Café.
2. What is the meaning of the name “Foru”?
The name “Foru” literally means “For you”. It means being able to make French toast for the person in front of you and to share something delicious. As for the place, I hope that it will be able to expand slowly.
We recently started a public company called Foru Style. “Foru” is the same as “For You”, and “Style” stands for “Lifestyle”. The future plan for this company is to be able to make a brand that can cater to many different aspects of people’s lifestyles.
3. When you first opened Foru Café, what were some of the challenges you faced?
At the beginning, there was nothing. I didn’t have any connections with people, money, or equipment. I really started from zero. That’s why having to figure out how to solve those problems one by one was extremely trying.
For example, I had a really hard time finding the perfect place for the café. At first, I wanted to run my café somewhere like Omotesando, Daikanyama, or Shibuya. The reason why was because I didn’t want it to become a café only focused on students, or a café run by students for students. Since Waseda is a college town, I thought it would become like this, so I really didn’t want to start my business here.
However, famous places like Daikanyama have extremely high land prices and rent, so I realized I wouldn’t be able to start my business there. When I thought of what to do, I decided it was important to have a sense of locality when running my business. This place is close to my house, and close to school, so it’s very convenient. Also, even though there are some weaknesses in making a café centered around students, I realized there were also strengths.
Also, people. It was really hard to find people to work with me. I held interviews, and interviewed so many different people. I chose to hire people who made me think, “I want to work with this person!” So really, the process of building up the company was very challenging.
4. Why did you decide to open Foru Café while you are still a student, instead of waiting until after you graduated?
I couldn’t find a reason why I couldn’t balance my schoolwork and the café. I was presented with a lot of chances, and I thought, “I have to do it now!” Graduating, finding a job, and learning the know-how of running a business would have been the safe option, but instead of choosing the safe route I decided I wanted to do it now.
There are a lot of student-organizations at Waseda. Each of those organizations have a lot of passion and energy, but on the other hand, I feel like a lot of them aren’t really recognized by society. I wanted to prove that even as a student I could operate a legitimate business.
Moreover, anyone can run a short-term event, but I wanted to have something that I could preserve and keep going. At that time I didn’t have anything like that, so I wanted to make something for my own that I could continue.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Yukina’s story next week!