We Will Recover Spotlight: Wayo Sushi
Wayo is a cozy neighborhood sushi bar serving authentic, high quality Japanese sushi. At the heart of Wayo is Mamoru Ogawa, the beloved owner and sole sushi chef. He was trained in Tokyo before moving to the U.S. in the 1980’s and has dedicated his life to making premium sushi. Known for wearing a colorful hachimaki, a headpiece which in Japan symbolizes endurance, Chef Ogawa’s sushi is known to be fresh, flavorful, and produced with meticulous care—whether it is the way he makes the rice, cuts the fish, or presents his rolls. With its focus on affordability and authenticity, Wayo has survived during the COVID-19 pandemic because of support from regular customers, many of whom have been coming for over 20 years.
Chef Ogawa’s serious dedication to sushi extends to ensuring that Wayo remains safe for customers. The team from the City’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development were so impressed with Wayo’s ongoing efforts to safety and the restaurant’s ability to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic, that they contacted us at the COVID Command Center’s Joint Information Center. To learn about Wayo’s response to the pandemic, and to draw lessons for other businesses, we recently spoke with Ayano Ogawa, Mamoru’s daughter and a proud San Francisco native. Ayano is a public health professional working in pandemic preparedness and has been instrumental in the design and implementation of Wayo’s health and safety protocols.
How have you adapted your business during the COVID-19 pandemic?
We have adapted our business in a few ways while ensuring that the decisions we make have the customer’s best interest in mind. Wayo has shifted to take-out only during the stay-at-home order and does not do delivery to preserve quality control of the sushi and to avoid the associated delivery fees both for the customer and business. Despite the pressure of doing business during a pandemic, Wayo has kept the same affordable prices and high-quality fish to ensure the customers are satisfied. However, one particularly tough decision we had to make was laying off two part-time waitresses.
Other changes include the restaurant hours and digital presence. With the understanding that some people crave sushi at hours outside of the set lunch and dinner times due to modified work and childcare schedules, Wayo has extended its hours to 12-9pm every day. Furthermore, we have boosted our online presence, by creating a new website to ensure that our menu is accessible to our customers and increasing our engagement with social media through regular posts and photos (e.g., Facebook, Google, and Yelp). Our online presence is still a work-in-progress, but we have been grateful to reach out to new and old customers through these platforms and for everyone who has provided reviews and photos so that it is easy for new customers to get to know us.
What kind of safety measures have you taken to protect customers?
We have followed the City’s health and safety protocols closely with the help of an SF Shines grant (which included an architect’s recommendations). We have a designated spot for takeout right by the door with a touchless hand sanitizer dispenser and social distancing floor decals, and the rest of the restaurant is closed off to the public. To ensure good airflow, we have added air purifiers with HEPA filters and keep the windows open. Additionally, we have purchased and implemented fixtures and equipment to encourage social distancing, including several plexiglass shields that surround the bar and the chef’s workspace, and follow strict procedures for sanitizing, particularly the takeout stations and high touch surfaces. Finally, we have printed posters with health messaging and reminders from the city and have also created some signs ourselves to amplify certain messages.
What are some meaningful interactions that you have had with customers during COVID?
Despite the difficult circumstances, we have been touched and uplifted by our loyal customers and community. Many of our customers check in on how we are doing and talk about how grateful they are that we are open (and we tell them how grateful we are for them to help us stay afloat!). There are a few customers who have returned to SF to be closer to family during the pandemic, and they have come back to Wayo noting that they appreciate the unwavering quality of our sushi as well as our comprehensive health and safety measures.
What do you miss the most?
My dad (Chef Ogawa) misses making and presenting the sushi in front of his customers and getting to see their joy and appreciation while eating. He also misses the social interactions with his customers, laughing and chatting about family and life.
What advice do you have for other stores trying to keep their business healthy and everyone safe during the pandemic?
We advise other restaurants to do everything in their power to keep their customers safe. Wayo has been able to survive due to our long-time regulars. The most important thing we can do at this time is to maintain our high standards for food, while working to step up to the challenges of the pandemic. Keeping businesses and customers safe is an ever-changing challenge as the pandemic continues to evolve, and the city of SF has key resources that have helped us to keep Wayo a safe place for our customers. As restaurants implement these protocols, it is not just about checking off the boxes but critically thinking about the customer’s experience in order to make decisions on the best ways to keep everyone safe, such as selecting the placement of fixtures or equipment in the restaurant.
Finally, restaurant owners should be encouraged to reach out to the local businesses in their community to draw best practices on ways to keep customers and businesses safe. For Wayo, we have greatly benefited from reaching out to local businesses to enhance our safety measures, such as E.M. Sewing Service in Japantown who sewed custom-made Japanese fabric masks for us, as well as Hayes Street Design, a local design shop, who provided recommendations on plexiglass fixtures that would fit Wayo’s sushi bar.
We thank Ayano and Chef Mamoru Ogawa for their dedication to keeping our community safe and well-fed. In the interest of tasty research, we recently ordered take-out from Wayo. Our sushi was impeccably fresh, delicious, and beautifully prepared.
You too can have mouth-watering sushi from Wayo. Check out their menu online, give a phone call, and swing by at the appointed time to safely pick up your meal directly from Chef Ogawa.
Website: 1407wayosushi.wixsite.com/wayo Phone: 415-474-8369
Address: 1407 Van Ness Ave (between Bush and Pine) in San Francisco, 94109
Although the safest thing for you to do during the COVID-19 pandemic is to stay home as much as possible, it is fine to go out and visit our vital retail businesses as long as you follow safety protocols. Wear a face covering, maintain safe social distance, keep interactions short, wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer, and don’t share food or other items. As of Thursday, January 28, many San Francisco businesses and services are reopening (with appropriate health and safety protocols). Go ahead and finally get that haircut, manicure, or Bernie in mittens tattoo that you crave. You can finally sit down outdoors and be served delicious food from diverse cultures. Our unique local businesses have been waiting to share their services with you. Give them a visit. Stay local, shop local, and give local. Support the City you love. Together, we will recover from COVID-19. sf.gov/WeWillRecover, shopdine49.com