April 4, 2020: Miko Nishio (SONO)

We recently interviewed Ms. Miko Nishio, General Manager of SONO Sushi Bar & Restaurant in downtown Raleigh, to ask her about how SONO is adapting to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and still serve their customers great Japanese fare.

1) Would you be so kind as to tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Miko Nishio, and I am the General Manager at Sono. I started working at Sono as a hostess in 2012, and throughout the years I’ve worked through almost all the positions except cooking. I became General Manager in December 2017. Honestly, I never dreamed about running a restaurant when I started working at Sono, but I knew I might end up working in hospitality because I enjoy meeting new people and it makes me happy to see that people are enjoying themselves with the services we offer.

2) Please introduce us to your restaurant and how it came to be established in NC.
Sono has been in downtown Raleigh a little over ten years now, way before I started working.
I cannot speak for the time before me, but I am proud to be working at Sono right now. We are very picky about our ingredients, and it is hard for me to sell things if I don’t believe in them. We carefully pick products that we use and ensure they are as fresh as possible. We can confidently say we offer the best, and we’re are not afraid to return products we don’t like. Ask our vendors! *wink*

3) What is your main customer demographic?
We are located in the middle of downtown Raleigh. Most of our guests work at businesses nearby, but it is pretty diverse with hotel guests, people attending conventions, and more. We welcome every kind of demographic.

4) With the current COVID-19 pandemic, and the State of Emergency declared in North Carolina, what have been the primary challenges for restaurants and specifically for your restaurant?
Operating a restaurant can be tough in general with tight margins, whether in a pandemic or not. The forced closing of restaurant dine-ins and the shift to a work-from-home workforce due to COVID-19 has caused huge declines in performance for all the restaurants. For the first week of carry-out only, our decline in revenue was almost 90%. We had no choice but to let many of our employees go temporarily. Sales have been increasing slowly, and we appreciate the community support.

5) How have your restaurant shifted your business model to compensate for the pandemic?
While we are not able to operate regularly, we’ve had to be as efficient as possible and offer takeout, curbside pickup, and third-party delivery programs such as UberEats and DoorDash. We are working hard to cover the salaries for the employees we’ve been able to keep, along with the rent, utilities, etc. We have been very careful about how we operate the restaurant. For instance, we use a minimum number of staff so we can keep our social distance to each other, we’re washing our hands more than ever, sanitizing the establishment, wearing masks and gloves, and we have no contact with guests when they come to pick up their food. We cannot be careful enough, and we are committed to protecting our guests and staff.

6) After the pandemic ends and people start coming out to restaurants again, does your restaurant have any plans to change your approach, moving forward?
All the staff who enter the establishment must take their temperature before entering, as well as wear a mask and gloves. We will reduce our capacity in the restaurant so each table is spaced out at least six feet apart. We may start offering our own delivery service to help with those people who are uncomfortable to be out in public, especially confined spaces like restaurants. This way we can keep our servers employed delivering food and still receive tips from guests. We are also hoping to get a mobile payment system in place so we can minimize contact in-person, but that’s on the list for the mid-term once more capital starts coming in.

7) How may your customers best support your restaurant during this time?
Any support we receive from guests is appreciated very much. If you feel like eating out but you can’t, please consider us as an option for a takeout or delivery order. We offer curbside pick-up, and UberEats and Doordash services for people who prefer not to leave the house. We would love to see our guests sharing photos of their order on social media and tag us to help spread the word. Seeing those posts with support motivates us the most, and pushes us even harder in these uncertain times! Currently, we are offering a gift card special: with a $100 gift card purchase, you get $20 extra on us to enjoy when things get back to normal. Since March 17th, when we were told we could no longer offer on-site dining, we have been saving our takeout order tips for charitable causes. We saved $1,501 in March and donated it to the “NC Restaurant Workers Relief Fund” for those who lost their jobs due to COVID-19. In April, we are saving our tips from takeout orders for “Bridge the Gap Mission;” they are currently feeding children and seniors in less fortunate circumstances. No one is making a profit right now, but we all need to survive this, together. Any contribution will help us. Thank you!