How I Got Here: Stuart Turner

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

How I Got Here: Stuart Turner founder of premium Japanese ingredients and produce supplier SushiSushi

Related tags: Supplier, Japanese cuisine

The founder of premium Japanese ingredients and produce supplier SushiSushi on building his business, his eclectic CV, and why he'd like to see restaurants be 'less faddy'.

Why restaurants?
Originally we started as a consumer ecommerce site back in 2007, but noticed more and more restaurants beginning to shop with us. We started building relationships with chefs and restaurateurs, sourcing premium Japanese ingredients they’d asked for introducing new ingredients we thought they’d love. As people continue to learn more about Japanese ingredients and how they can be used, the business has grown steadily, but  it’s the relationships that we’ve built with producers and our customers that are the backbone of SushiSushi.

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
I wish that starting your own business had been discussed at school as an option. We were told to try hard at school, go to uni and get a good job. We were never encouraged to think about entrepreneurialism. I wish I’d have realised that earlier. I now speak on careers day at my old school about starting your own business and how hard but rewarding it is.

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your own)?
Well, we’re a supplier so it wouldn't be fair to pick a favourite. We’ve got 56 stars on our books, which I’m really proud of as well as working with industry heavyweights like Chiltern Firehouse. If I had to pick a few for my own personal taste I’d say Ynyshir, Jöro, Cornerstone and Fat Duck - I could honestly keep going all day!

What motivates you?
I love the search. I like hunting out amazing Japanese ingredients and discovering new things. I love adventure and travel. Finding yourself at a little trade show in a small town on an island in Japan and then, bang, an amazing product is just sitting there, hidden away. When I taste it, I know immediately -  this is going to blow our customers' minds! Anywhere in Japan is crammed full of things like that, I don’t think I’ll ever stop searching.

What keeps you up at night?
Letting people down. What we do can be quite obscure by its nature so sometimes things are hard to get or hard to import, that’s been a real challenge in the last 18 months. I hate telling people we can't get the thing they really want.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
That’s a hard one. I’ve had a lot of bosses! I’ve taken positives and negatives from all of them. I think you need negative role models as much as you need positive ones. There’s learning in all of it and it all points you in the right direction.

Coffee or tea?
I'd like to say Gyokuro Tea from Shizuoka, but I also love a V60 pour-over coffee.

What’s your signature dish to cook at home?
Yakisoba noodles with A5 Gunma wagyu ribeye.

What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
I jumped off a bridge on Vancouver island (fully dressed).

Favourite holiday destination?
Holidays, remember them? It’s got to be Japan, I can’t wait to get back there.

What are you currently reading?
The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze

What was your dream job growing up?
I studied at University to be a computer animator. But I graduated in 2002 and there weren’t many jobs for it back then. Hence my rather eclectic CV (see Bio below).

Best business decision?
Moving to a slick new unit in my home city of Sheffield and going all-in selling authentic Japanese lines. I was initially worried that focusing on premium Japanese products was too niche, but people love it.

Worst business decision?
Taking too long to refine the product range we had and make it all about premium ingredients from the best producers in Japan. Now we’re so far down that road there’s no stopping us.

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
Focus on one thing and do it well. Get up every day and try to do it better. Don't leave jobs half done and stay on it constantly. Be humble and focus on being the best you can be at what you do. Success might come, but be happy with trying your best.

If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
To be less faddy and to do less. In Japan, a ramen restaurant only makes ramen and maybe gyoza as a side dish. It doesn't serve pizza and curry. If I want pizza, I want the best pizza, if I want a burger, I want a bloody good burger. I don't want a place that does an average interpretation of them all. I wish that more chefs and restaurateurs could reconcile themselves to adopt a specialism that they can excel at and be proud of.

Bio

Born in Sheffield, Turner studied a BA in Digital Animation at University of Cumbria, and originally moved between sales and events roles with employers including Nationwide and Mercedes-Benz. In the mid-noughties he went to spend time in Australia, first working as a grape picker and later as front of house for a sushi restaurant in Melbourne. Other roles have included being a web developer for the University of Sydney, and a commentator for Formula One. He launched SushiSushi in 2007, which has grown to become one of the UK’s top independent suppliers of Japanese produce to the UK restaurant industry with more than 40 Michelin-starred restaurants on its books.

Related topics: People, Profiles

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