Was it difficult to decide to close Koya when you were at such a height of success?
John Devitt: No, not really. I just made the decision that if [Junya, ex head chef and founder] wanted to leave, I wasn’t going to replace him. I thought that closing it on a high was a great thing. Nobody had to live up to his standards.
Why have you decided to open one now?
JD: We are actually in the middle of a rebranding. Our Soho site is going to be called Koya as well. It’s not like we’re opening the Koya that closed, we’re opening the Koya Bar as such- we’re just calling them all Koya. Everyone calls it Koya anyway, so we’re just making it easier. There’s now just ‘Koya Soho’ and ‘Koya City’. It’s all under Shuko’s design and palate.
How similar will they be?
JD: Koya City and Koya Soho will have a lot of similarities. The main menus will be the same, but there will be different blackboards in both restaurants.
Shuko Oda: There will be more drinks, a full sake menu, and we’ll do wine in Koya City- there’s no wine in Koya Soho.
Who’s got most of the control over the menus?
SO: It’s mainly me, and I will be based at Koya City to begin with. Hopefully it will be good enough for me to go back and forth between the two sites, and I will talk with both of the teams and develop blackboard specials for both of them. I’ve got a good bunch of chefs to keep it going.
JD: Shuko left to have a child before, so we have experience of being without her for at least nine months. When she was away she popped in all the time to make sure everything was OK. I knew that this would be really easy for her - she’s managed the team before by not being present, while being at home having a child. She’s a super-mum.
Have you changed your business much to keep up with the changing restaurant scene over the years?
JD: We’ve changed very little: 70% of our menu has not changed, although it evolved slightly with Junya over the years. The same goes for Koya Bar with Shuko, but very little has changed at our core. With how we prepare for the day, run the system and employ the staff and train, it might have evolved a little, but nothing dramatic has changed.
SO: We have more staff now, and we’ve learned to have to accommodate different peoples lifestyles. That’s something I want to try and embrace as much as possible.
The Japanese noodle bar sector has grown a lot in recent years. Where does Koya fit in?
JD: We are presently the only udon bar, and that’s our main point of difference. Everyone else is opening ramen bars, and they’re doing a great job - we’re just not that. In Japan it’s a very different beast.
SO: Udon is a lot easier on the stomach, so you feel like you can eat it every day. A lot of ramen places now do pork soup, which is really rich. What we do is something that you really can come in and eat every day. I think that will be attractive for a lot of people in the city too. It’s a much healthier option.
Why did you choose a development like the Bloomburg arcade to open in? It’s very different to Soho...
JD: I used to work in the City and I know it well enough to know what the people want. There used to be a ramen and gyoza joint, and I remember loving it, but then the City didn’t have anything else like it. I think City folk really want fast healthy noodles, and the Bloomburg Building, for me, is the epicentre for the City. It was too beautiful a building and too good an opportunity to not try and do what we do in Soho right in the centre of the city.
Have you got any plans for any more expansion?
JD: We have dreams of opening another one or two. In our minds Koya could be possibly three or four London restaurants, and I’d be happily surprised if we could do more. For the moment it’s one at a time, and we’ll think about another one when we get this one up and running perfectly.