SOAS University of London

Caroline Bennett

SOAS taught me about a wider world, and helped me put my business idea into the context of that wider world.

Who are you and what is your company?
Caroline Bennett, Founder & Owner of Moshi Moshi.

How can people get in touch with you?
Moshi Moshi, Unit 24 Liverpool Street Station, London EC2M 7QH, www.moshimoshi.co.uk

SOAS – What, why and, if you don’t mind, when?
Japanese with Economics, 1991 - Having spent time in rural Japan and Tokyo in my gapyear, I decided to bin the bio-chemistry degree in preference for one at SOAS in Japanese and economics. I graduated in 1991. Living in vibrant Tokyo in the ‘80s was intoxicating for me as a teenager, and I decided that I wanted to work in finance having seen first-hand the energy of the Japanese financial community… I am a little wiser now.

What then?
Thanks to the introduction by my economics tutor, I was interviewed in Tokyo for a position as a trainee fund manager for Invesco Asset Management. I started working with them on their Asian desk in London in 1991, and was seconded to Tokyo in Oct 1994, two months after I opened London’s first kaiten conveyor belt sushi bar in Liverpool Street Station. The timing wasn’t great, and while I had fun in Tokyo, sales at the restaurant quadrupled while profits went into the red. I had to come home to look after my business.

Apparently I’d always talked about opening my own sushi restaurant – I don’t remember that, but I do remember being utterly obsessive about getting my sushi fix in Tokyo, and convinced that there were more people like me back in London. Through conviction I persuaded a bank to lend to me, and found two angel investors, and we opened to a roaring success in July 1994, I was 27.

Why did you decide to go solo?
I think the business insisted on me going solo, rather than it being an active choice! I had never intended to work in my own business, but I’m glad now that I do.

What do you do now?
18 years on I still enjoy running Moshi Moshi; restaurants are places that often customers spend the best part of their day, it’s nice to be a part of that. Running your own business allows you to take it in the direction you choose, which is very appealing. Like a samurai, you live and die by your own sword. I have become very involved with marine conservation as a result of seeing the devastation the prolific growth in sushi bars amongst other things has caused on our oceans, and this is the direction my future will take.

Relatively, I am far less well off now than I was as an ex-pat in Tokyo, but it just doesn’t matter. Life now is infinitely richer, though the experiences and learning curve of working in Tokyo I wouldn’t have missed.

What gave you the biggest headache when you were starting up?
People! Drunken chefs, a selfish business partner, and probably I gave myself my own headaches – I simply wasn’t experienced enough, I was learning as I went along.

Did you have a “Eureka” moment? What and when was it?
No eureka moment, but I have always followed my instinct when it comes to food.

What one thing would you do differently, except for coming to SOAS?
Buy out business partners when they have passed their useful shelf life.

Is there anything you did or learnt at SOAS that helped you to succeed in striking out?
SOAS taught me about a wider world, and helped me put my business idea into the context of that wider world. My thoughts weren’t restrained or channelled in the way I saw MBA graduates approaching ideas in the finance world. It gave me colour, it wasn’t black and white. I think people that succeed in today’s world will need to have a more holistic approach.

If there were one piece of advice you could give to someone starting out, what would it be?
Don’t be driven by fear. Imagine your worst case scenario, get comfortable with it, and then go for it. Secondly, ask lots of questions.

Please provide a brief description of your business in 100 words, and list any key achievements you would like to highlight, e.g. awards, significant
milestones
Moshi Moshi in Liverpool Street Station introduced Britain to its first kaiten conveyor-belt sushi bar, growing to 5 Moshi Moshi restaurants plus a high-end sister restaurant. We offer classic Japanese dishes in an authentic Japanese environment, using ingredients sourced freshly and locally in keeping with the traditions of Japan. The importance of sourcing local and sustainable fish has become the core of what we do. We were the first Japanese restaurant to remove blue fin tuna from our menu in 1998.  Through wonderful organisations like Slow Food we’ve fostered direct relationships with small scale fisherman from the UK, and we campaign where we can to help raise awareness of the plight of our oceans.

Caroline Bennett was awarded the Green Apple award for the Environment for her work with local fisheries in 2006. We received the RSPCA’s Innovation Award in 2007. We were one of the first 5 restaurants in the UK to become MSC Marine Stewardship Council accredited in 2008. Caroline was named a Seafood Champion by Seafood Choices Alliance in 2009, and sits on the Boards of Slow Food UK, the Seafood Choices Alliance’s Advisory Group, and Sustainable Fish City’s Advisory Group.