Originally Published: June 7, 2015 12:22 a.m.
After nine years of steady business, married couple Eriko Horikawa and Hiroshi Hori, owners of Esoji Japanese Restaurant, wanted more.
"The sales were very stable every year; almost always the same," said Horikawa.
In other words, they weren't seeing growth, and for ambitious business owners, that's a red flag.
"I want to pay my people good," Horikawa said.
So Horikawa and Hori took a risk; they expanded.
They purchased what used to house the restaurant The Boulders at 1355 Iron Springs Road and began a massive renovation.
The project took nearly two years to complete and cost about 30 percent more than they anticipated, but the pay-off may match the effort.
The restaurant, which just re-opened on Monday, June 1 and is now called Esoji Teppan Steak & Seafood Sushi Bar, is an oriental palace with extravagant décor and enough space for their planned future growth.
It features a dining room, a sushi bar, a liquor bar, a banquet room currently being used for storage and a room devoted to teppanyaki-a style of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook food.
Ever since Monsoon Restaurant closed a few years back on the corner of Gurley and Marina streets - where Prescott Station Bar and Grill now sits - there hasn't been a restaurant in Yavapai County to offer teppanyaki. Horikawa decided to fill that void with four teppanyaki tables. Each table seats up to eight people.
Horikawa's regular customers were worried when she broke the news on her plans to move. Downtown sees the most foot traffic. Therefore, one would assume that any business
located in the city's center would fare the best.
However, that wasn't the case for Esoji, according to Horikawa. As she tracked her clientele over the years, she noticed that about 70 percent
consists of regulars and that very few tourists seem to dine at her establishment, even during the summer months when the courthouse square attracts travelers nearly every weekend for special events.
"I'm not sure why that was, maybe it's the price," Horikawa said. "But since I have a lot of regulars, I thought it was safe to move. Plus downtown there were no parking spots and here we have plenty."
She also has plenty of space. About 150 people could dine in the restaurant at the same time if every area was utilized.
Horikawa admits she and her husband-who is a classically trained Japanese chef with about 50 years of experience-are not nearly ready to take on a crowd like that.
Until they hire a few more employees and familiarize everyone with an organized workflow, Horikawa wishes to transition gradually.
"I don't want to stretch my staff," Horikawa said.
Right now, service is only available in the dining room and at the sushi bar.
Horikawa anticipates opening teppanyaki tables in about three to four weeks.
The liquor license hasn't been approved yet, so the liquor bar likely won't be open for about 2
or 3 more months, according to Horikawa.
The restaurant is also only offering dinner service (4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.) at this point. However, once the liquor license is acquired, Horikawa hopes to start offering lunch, which she plans to make significantly different than dinner.
When Esoji closed downtown, Horikawa and Hori were considering turning it into a noodle shop. That idea was dropped once they realized how much work the new location would take to get going. To compensate for the lost opportunity to bring traditional Japanese-style noodles to the people of Prescott, the owners are looking at making lunch a self-service noodle express.
"We can serve the noodle very quick," Horikawa said.
This will allow anyone to come in, get an $8 bowl of noodles and leave within 45 minutes without even having to leave a tip.
"Kind of like Wildflower," Horikawa said.
To view the menu or keep up with the progress of Esoji's transition, you can visit their website at esoji.wordpress.com or give them a call at 928-227-2151.
Follow Max Efrein on Twitter @mefrein. Reach him at 928-642-7864.
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