It's with great sadness to share the news that Japanese restaurant Koj is closing for good in Cheltenham.
In a statement on his website, Andrew Kojima said
"I am sorry to announce that Koj Cheltenham will not be re-opening. Despite the premature ending, I am very happy to have opened a business in Cheltenham. An initial nine-week trial confirmed in my mind that the town was the right place for my first permanent restaurant. It is a town that is an attractive place to live, work and visit. I have been blessed with enthusiastic, hard-working and outgoing employees. We have been privileged to serve customers who are engaging, fun-loving and loyal. And I have been inspired by other business owners who are supportive, entrepreneurial and passionate.
I am immensely proud of what my team and I achieved in three years and of our own contribution towards enhancing Cheltenham’s reputation for good lifestyle: two glowing reviews in national newspapers, a clutch of awards and multiple listings in the Michelin Guide, The Good Food Guide and Harden’s. While these accolades were not part of the business plan, the recognition for our hard work provided reward and an incentive to maintain and improve on our standards. They also gave me the drive to believe that there was unfinished business to return to once the pandemic had subsided. I felt that there was more to come.
I have been in regular discussions with fellow restaurateurs and my accountants since we closed in March. I had budgeted for re-opening costs such as re-stocking, COVID-19 guideline compliance and re-training. The prospect of incurring these costs was daunting, especially given that business continuity remained at risk through factors out of our control: a confirmed case on site, or further regional lockdowns and restrictions. Nevertheless, I had hoped that if both the virus itself and the guidelines began to stabilise, we would be able to reopen.
The recent rise in infections has prompted the government to impose further restrictions, which could last for at least 6 months. They are the final nail in the coffin for any hope and fight that I had left in me.
The restaurant industry is a broad church. Some restaurants sell food, some sell the experience. Those at the foodservice end of the spectrum are little more than supermarkets with microwaves and places to sit. I always wanted Koj Cheltenham to do more than just satisfy hunger. I also wanted the experience to be affordable enough to make cocktails and dinner an occasional treat, not just for special occasions.
I loved the atmosphere in our small restaurant when it was buzzing, so my initial concern was our ability to retain that character in the current environment. The task of generating revenues that exceed our overheads has been made all the harder by social distancing measures. Consumer confidence, already damaged by both the virus itself and its economic impact, will suffer a fresh blow now that the widely anticipated second peak has lead to further restrictions. And I expect the trading environment to deteriorate further as more redundancies follow. Even our most loyal customers will have to cut back on their occasional treats.
In opening my first restaurant, I realised a dream and expressed my passion. I followed my heart. Sadly, I have concluded that now is the time for my head to rule my heart, so that I can make a fresh start, rebuild my career and make a living to support my wife and our young children through this turbulent time, rather than add to their worries. Without the backing of a wealthy and optimistic investor, I cannot take the risk of incurring further losses and greater debt.
While I have lost a lot, I have gained confidence and experience in rising to the challenge of building and running a business, learning how to manage a team and dealing with setbacks and mistakes. I have had the pleasure of seeing customers delight in conversation, laughter and good food. I have made many new friends, both among fellow business owners and our customers. I have grown very fond of Cheltenham. It has been an honour to serve as a Director of Cheltenham BID. It has been rewarding to work with Marketing Cheltenham, and most recently TURF Cheltenham, on promoting the town’s hospitality credentials.
I look forward to continuing this work even though Koj Cheltenham will now exist only in the memories of its customers and employees and within the pages of my first book, No Sushi.