A young women's determination!

Discussion in 'Entrepreneurship' started by indira, Oct 31, 2005.

  1. indira

    indira Junior IL'ite

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    Just came across this story about a young women whose passion and determination made her to quit a job and start a successful bagel shop in Tokyo. It was inspiring to me and hence thought that others would like it to. Here it is..

    Pipe Dream
    An Entrepreneur Finds Tokyo
    Shares Her Passion for Bagels

    October 18, 2005; Page B1

    TOKYO -- Five years ago, Miho Inagi quit her job as an office assistant to pursue a passionate dream. On a trip to New York, she had fallen in love with the city's bagels and yearned to open her own bagel shop in Tokyo.

    Never mind that bagels were barely known in Japan and that most Japanese expected bread to be soft and moist, not hard and crunchy. Determined to learn the trade properly, Ms. Inagi talked her way into an apprenticeship at New York's Ess-a-Bagel. From 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., she took orders, cleared trays and swept the floor. On Saturdays and Sundays, the shop's exacting owner, Florence Wilpon, let her make dough. Six months later, when she felt she had the hang of it, Ms. Inagi returned to Japan.

    Last year, Ms. Inagi opened Maruichi Bagel, a tiny sliver of a bakery wedged between a coffee shop and a hair salon in an upscale Tokyo neighborhood. (Maruichi means No. 1 or, literally, the numeral one in a circle -- a symbol that resembles a just-baked bagel.)

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    Miho Inagi at Maruichi Bagel, where some customers wait 20 minutes for the next batch.

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    She bakes her bagels in an oven that fits 18 at a time. Her bagels have become so popular that when she sells out, customers often will wait 15 or 20 minutes until the next batch is ready.

    "Before I opened this store I had no goals," says Ms. Inagi, 29 years old. But now, she says, "I feel so satisfied."

    <REPRINTSDISCLAIMER>The timing was fortuitous. Ms. Inagi found her niche just as Japan was about to experience a bagel boom. Today, local food magazines tout them as a health food and bagel stores are opening everywhere. Connoisseurs rate shops on a Web page called @ bagel cafe, a kind of nationwide clearinghouse for bagel information in Japan. One guidebook to New York even gives instructions on how to order and pay for a bagel sandwich.

    The bagel store was an unexpected career change for Ms. Inagi. After studying computer sciences in college, she joined a software subsidiary of electronics giant Hitachi Ltd., where she hoped she'd be able to hone her programming skills.

    But then in December 1998, she was visiting New York with college friends and had her first Ess-a-Bagel -- a plain with raisin-and-walnut cream cheese. She was instantly enamored. "I just didn't think anything like a bagel could taste so good," she said.

    A year later, she flew back to New York. Unfazed by her limited English language ability, she persuaded Ms. Wilpon to let her spend a week at Ess-a-Bagel to get a taste of the business. She spent her vacation sweeping the floor and, before returning to Japan, she decided she wanted to learn more.

    Back home, Ms. Inagi's parents tried to talk her out of returning to New York to study baking. They told her Japanese consumers wouldn't buy such hard bread. When she persisted, her father told her, "We must have done a bad job raising you."

    In February 2001, she found an apartment in Brooklyn with four Japanese students. Ms. Wilpon was surprised when Ms. Inagi showed up at Ess-a-Bagel: She hadn't expected to see the young woman again. For six months, Ms. Inagi spent ten hours a day at the shop, receiving no pay and using up some of her savings along the way.

    "She was absolutely determined to learn," said Ms. Wilpon, who has occasionally hosted students from around the world, including a South Korean baker. "She learned very fast."

    Back in Japan once more, Ms. Inagi bought bagel-making equipment from discount stores, including a $3,300 oven and a $1,100 refrigerator to store the dough. To make ends meet, she took a job doing computer work for an online watch seller.

    By early 2004, Ms. Inagi was ready to start her shop -- but she had only $20,000 and needed another $30,000. She ruled out banks, on the advice of a friend, who thought it would be difficult to get funding for such an unconventional project. In the end, she turned to her parents, drawing up a contract detailing the terms of the loan. Her parents, resigned to their daughter's ambitions, gave her the cash.

    Maruichi Bagel struggled when it first opened in August 2004, in part because no one knew it was there. But then, in October, a customer posted a review on @ bagel cafe, the bagel Web page. As more people discovered her shop, Ms. Inagi developed a reputation for authenticity.

    Now, the store draws crowds of loyal customers and turns a modest profit from sales of about $10,000 a month. Some months, Ms. Inagi can earn $2,300 after expenses, about the same as she was making when she was a company employee. She brought on a full-time staffer last month.

    Unlike some of her competitors, who cater to Japanese tastes by making bagels with toppings like sweet beans, Ms. Inagi makes few concessions to the local palate. She offers eight classic flavors, including plain, poppy, cinnamon-raisin -- even "everything." Her toppings are limited, including plain cream cheese, smoked salmon and egg salad. A plain bagel costs about $1.65.

    Ms. Inagi's day starts at 5 a.m., when she pulls a tray of doughy, uncooked bagels from the refrigerator and starts boiling them in a 70-liter pot. Because her oven is so small, she can't open the store until 11 a.m., when she usually has about 200 bagels made. Her day can stretch until 10 p.m., when she finishes making the dough for the next day and cleans up. A few weeks ago, she showed up at 5 a.m. but was so exhausted and stressed that she wrote up a quick note saying she was taking the day off.

    At 3 p.m. on a recent Friday, a line of eight customers -- including a mother with her two children -- waited to buy the last 18 bagels Ms. Inagi had. When the supply began to dwindle, the customers pared down their orders to leave some for the rest of the crowd. "These are without a doubt the best bagels in Tokyo," said 25-year-old Satomi Oba, who says she has been to almost every bagel shop in the city. "I make a special trip to get them."
    Giri12 likes this.

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