Mr. Shigeta’s Profile
Shin-Sen-Gumi owner and “Kyokucho” (Chief Boss) Mitsuyasu Shigeta
Born in Tokunoshima, Kagoshima prefecture in Japan on September, 8th 1965.
Mr. Shigeta was given a fighting bull instead of a pet to take care of by his father, a man who ran a construction company and was the chairman of the Tokunoshima Bull Fighting Association. He took care of this bull 365 days a year without rest and has said that he has no memory of playing with friends like a normal child.
In Tokunoshima, the fighting bull is said to have the status similar to a sumo champion with training taking place every day for 2 hours. In an industry so dangerous that owners had been known to be, at times, killed by the bulls they were training to fight, Mr. Shigeta successfully raised a bull entrusted to him by his father that was said to be the biggest on the island and in the end made him a champion. It is here that Mr. Shigeta learned that no matter how ferocious the bull, given the right amount love and attention it could be reached and educated.
Junior High School days - Moving to Kagoshima city
During his time in Tokushima, along with his brother, he was known as leader among the children who didn’t let his small body get in the way of winning all the fights he was in. Despite experiencing the tragic death of his father he always placed high academically, successfully entering one of the top five schools in Kagoshima, Kagoshima Prefecture Technical High School, majoring in civil engineering.
College days - First encounter with "Hakata Yakitori" in Hakata, Fukuoka city
It was at his part-time job at the Yakitori restaurant “Tonsho” where he would first come in contact with the Hakata style of yakitori or grilled chicken skewers. He was deeply struck by their delicious flavor and the variety of the types of Yakitori of which he had never seen while in Kagoshima.
For two years, Mr. Shigeta worked extremely hard at Tonsho all the while never imagining running a Yakitori restaurant himself. He couldn’t consider any other future other than taking after his father and working in the construction business.
After working at the Yakitori restaurant, in his third year at university, Mr. Shigeta started working at a high class club as a porter, garnering high praise for his serious attitude toward his work, eventually being given heavy responsibilities, even as a part-timer. Helped by his hardworking ways, Mr. Shigeta was able to accomplish anything that came to mind from a young age and everything seemed to be going his way.
Pushing the envelope - Heading to Los Angeles
However, looking back at that time he also could have been seen as conceited. And with studying civil engineering in high school and university Mr. Shigeta seemed to be destined to follow in the footsteps of his father and continue in his business. With this came feelings of something missing. Wondering “Is this really for me?” Mr. Shigeta began to feel that he wanted to push himself to the limit. He turned his focus to the U.S. and the idea that he could make his future there.
At the time, the only places that came to mind were Los Angeles and New York. With its proximity to Japan and the casual advice of a friend it was off to Los Angeles Right after graduating from college Mr. Shigeta made his way to Los Angeles. He knew he would have to learn English to make it in the U.S. and starting studying at an English language school.
Pushing the envelope - What was the trigger to challenge a new business in Los Angeles?
He found the experience of living in a new country where he could not speak the language to be disastrous, at least at first. Not even being able to do something as basic as buying a beer at a supermarket because he could not understand the phrase “Show me your ID”, Mr. Shigeta experienced the kind of powerlessness and loss that he would never have felt in Japan.
The cost of tuition forced him to quit the language school after only half a year. But Mr. Shigeta felt too embarrassed to simply return to Japan so he instead chose the path of business. This, in turn, led him to real estate. Mr. Shigeta then set out for the goal of obtaining a real estate license in the U.S. At the same time he became the US champion in karate after obtaining a black belt in karate while studying at the Ashihara Dojo in Los Angeles.
Studying for a real estate license proved difficult. With all of its technical terms at his current language ability it took him over one hour just to translate one sentence while using a dictionary. Still, he motivated himself by boldly stating to those around him that he would “obtain a real estate license in one try and become the karate champion of the US”.
And so, after spending a year working delivering “bento” (a traditional Japanese boxed lunch) and at a part-time cleaning job while studying hard for the real estate exam (usually only getting two or three hours of sleep) he did indeed successfully pass the exam and receive his license. Then, one week later in Denver, Colorado, he delivered on his other promise taking the title in his first appearance in the national karate championship.
Pushing the envelope - The days of collapse and seeking
So, while pushing himself to the limits Mr. Shigeta was able to successfully achieve his goals. On the other hand, while not being able to speak English properly and unable to gain the confidence of American customers, one could not say that his real estate business was booming. To earn money to support him, Mr. Shigeta started up a cleaning company, cleaning buildings Downtown, starting a daily routine of working from the early morning to 2 or 3 am.
However, in order to gain clients he offered his services at such low rates that he was left with little money in the end and succeeded only in seeing how far he could stretch himself to his physical limits. It was at this time that Mr. Shigeta came up with the idea of a business that he could really sell himself on and that fit his personality; the restaurant business.
Recalling, back in his college days, the feeling of the first time he ate Hakata-style yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) he then decided to open a yakitori restaurant in Los Angeles. He quickly returned to Hakata and after spending two month preparing for the opening of his own yakitori restaurant he once again returned to Los Angeles.
Opening "Shin-Sen-Gumi Restaurant"
Just when everything seemed to be going well the opening was held up by the difficulty of finding a proper location. In Los Angeles, when opening a restaurant, there is a law that the restaurant must be able to guarantee a certain amount of parking spaces. Once Mr. Shigeta would find a good location for his restaurant he would apply for the okay only to be turned down because of this law. This frustrating process repeated itself countless times, delaying the project for a long period.
Then, just when it seemed that he may have to give up on the project an idea came to him. He recalled that while still studying at an English language school he had his first date with his girlfriend (who is now his wife) at a location where he said casually at the time “This would be a great place for a Yakitori restaurant”.
Of course, at the time he never could have imagined that he would eventually be running a Yakitori restaurant himself. The end result was like destiny as he returned to that location and succeeded in negotiating with the Japanese-American restaurant owner who was already there at the time. And so, in September of 1992 this would become the location of his first Shin-Sen-Gumi Yakitori restaurant.
Actually, it took a while for this restaurant to get completely on track and it was three years before Mr. Shigeta could give himself a salary.
Furthermore, as an amateur and with only a few employees, having many items on the menu and taking the time to prepare all this dishes prevented him from being able to get a good night’s rest. Despite that, as a result of patience and hard work, in June of 1996 the “Shin-Sen-Gumi Chanko Restaurant” and the “Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen Restaurant” were both able to open at the same time in Gardena, surprising the Japanese community in Los Angeles. In the 15 years since being founded the Shin-Sen-Gumi group has expanded to 11 restaurants in the Tokyo and Los Angeles area and has become a large establishment that was unimaginable in the beginning.
This hard working, passionate group is led by Mr. Shigeta and instead of losing steam, Shin-Sen-Gumi intends to only get stronger.