Mirai Shokudo (translated as Future Eatery), a restaurant in the Jinbōchō district of Tokyo, Japan, accepts 50 minutes worth of labor as payment from customers who can’t afford to buy a decent meal.
Mirai Shokudo is owned by former engineer Sekai Kobayashi, 33, who is the sole staff member of the restaurant, which seats 12 at a counter, according to The Japan News via AsiaOne.
“I use this system because I want to connect with hungry people who otherwise couldn’t eat at restaurants because they don’t have money,” Kobayashi said.
She said that when she opened her restaurant two years ago, she aimed to create “a place where everyone is welcome and everyone fits in.”
Kobayashi did not jump into the food and beverage (F&B) industry. She started off by dabbling in shop management back when she was still a student.
“I dabbled in shop management as a university student. Each year at the university’s annual festival, I ran a dimly lit cafe stocked with books. The cafe won first prize in the festival popularity contest in all four years when I was a student. I even opened cafes at other school festivals,” she said.
Kobayashi then worked at a bar located in Shinjuku’s Golden Gai, a district in Tokyo known for its cozy bars and pubs, when she was 20. After graduating, she landed a job completely unrelated to the food and beverage industry, following a bar master’s advice that “it’s not so bad to experience the outside world.”
Kobayashi worked as an engineer at IBM Japan before moving on to Cookpad, a company that runs a cooking recipe website, which had an in-office kitchen where employees could cook and prepare their meals.
“My colleagues really liked the lunches I made for them. This led me to strongly consider opening my own restaurant,” Kobayashi recalled.
She was inspired to enroll for a vocational training course offered by a leading restaurant chain as well as other places before she officially put her time and effort on Mirai Shokudo.
“Through various methods, I’ve also kept the business profitable,” the 33-year-old owner said about her restaurant, where a daily lunch special is priced at 900 yen ($8.05).
While being an entrepreneur is quite different from engineering, some of the things that Kobayashi learned from her previous profession still comes in handy.
“To manage my restaurant, I adopted an open-source model – a system through which software design is made available for free to the public so that everyone can improve upon it,” she explained.
“I posted the restaurant’s business plan and finances on its website so I can collect input from the public on how to make improvements. This information is also available for those who want to open their own restaurants. Sharing something with others means supporting those with ambition. That underpins my approach to work.”
The restaurant still accepts money as payment, but the labor is just an option for customers who can’t afford the meal, especially for the less fortunate ones and university students who are on a tight budget.
More than 500 people have reportedly tried to work for their own meals, receiving a free-meal coupon that can be deposited at the entrance of the restaurant.
A 56-year-old former teacher has also been helping Kobayashi at Mirai Shokudo since July 2017.
“It’s an exciting job because I work with a new person every time. It’s interesting to develop a good rapport and work with others,” the woman said, hoping that one day she will follow her own career path in the food industry.
A similar restaurant called Gyoza No Ohsho also opened up in Kyoto, Japan, where the owner allows students who couldn’t afford meals to eat in exchange for washing dishes.