January 19, 2022

December 13, 2021

Hachi: Branding Bozeman's Sushi Pub

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January 19, 2022

Hachi: Branding Bozeman's Sushi Pub

News
Hachi Sushi Pub is a sushi bar and Japanese izakaya in The Market Building on Bozeman’s happening west side. It’s the latest concept of the Blue Collar Restaurant Group, which runs 10 restaurants in Bozeman and Jackson, Wyoming. It's X factor is a very intentional balance between really outstanding traditional sushi, modern sashimi and elevated street-style Japanese food.

We’ve had the pleasure of working with the Blue Collar Restaurant Group on multiple new brands and rebrands for their restaurants, so when they approached us with this concept, we couldn’t wait to dig in. While every concept in the Blue Collar Restaurant Group is unique, the constant throughout is Blue Collar’s “service first” pledge. They want to make sure that everyone who steps inside their restaurants feels valued and taken care of. This goes for both customers and employees.

We sat down with Blane Woodfin, Blue Collar Restaurant Group’s regional president in Bozeman, to talk about Hachi and their experience branding a new restaurant.

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January 19, 2022

Hachi: Branding Bozeman's Sushi Pub

News
Hachi Sushi Pub is a sushi bar and Japanese izakaya in The Market Building on Bozeman’s happening west side. It’s the latest concept of the Blue Collar Restaurant Group, which runs 10 restaurants in Bozeman and Jackson, Wyoming. It's X factor is a very intentional balance between really outstanding traditional sushi, modern sashimi and elevated street-style Japanese food.

We’ve had the pleasure of working with the Blue Collar Restaurant Group on multiple new brands and rebrands for their restaurants, so when they approached us with this concept, we couldn’t wait to dig in. While every concept in the Blue Collar Restaurant Group is unique, the constant throughout is Blue Collar’s “service first” pledge. They want to make sure that everyone who steps inside their restaurants feels valued and taken care of. This goes for both customers and employees.

We sat down with Blane Woodfin, Blue Collar Restaurant Group’s regional president in Bozeman, to talk about Hachi and their experience branding a new restaurant.

Please introduce yourself and tell the readers what you do with the Blue Collar Restaurant Group.

Blane Woodfin. Regional President for Blue Collar Restaurant Group in Bozeman, Montana. We are a family owned and operated multi-concept restaurant group doing business in Jackson, Wyoming and Bozeman, Montana. We are about to open our tenth restaurant, the fourth in Bozeman.

Blue Collar operates multiple restaurants in Jackson and Bozeman. Can you tell us how Hachi fits into the Blue Collar Restaurant Group? And how is it unique from the other restaurants?

I think Hachi is a great example of where we are focused as a restaurant group. While we have concepts that span the range (from casual to fine dining), we like to think Hachi is square in the middle. We are trying to focus it to be very similar to Sidewinders (in Bozeman and Jackson) as far as being casual. You can walk in whether you just got done skiing or you’re just off the river. It’s a very family friendly and casual Bozeman restaurant

Why did you want to open a Japanese sushi pub in Bozeman, Montana? What makes Hachi special to this area?

We conspired to do with one of our key team members, Kyle Kiefel. Kyle joined Blue Collar in Jackson and worked with us at Noodle Kitchen and previously worked at a number of sushi restaurants, learning from other sushi chefs. That is where his passion was. When the opportunity came to relocate to Bozeman and open Tanglewood and Foxtrot, he moved his family to Bozeman and was a big part in building these restaurants here. When the opportunity came for us to take over this space in Bozeman’s Market Building, we knew we had the talent to pull it off. We felt really great about having Kyle and some other people on board who specialize in sushi. We had prior experience doing sushi at Noodle Kitchen (in Jackson), but it was really about these individuals. We pride ourselves on providing opportunities for growth in our company and sometimes you really need to put your money where your mouth is. These are great people on our team and we don’t want to lose them. We have the service model for really any restaurant. They have the concept experience and we could use our service model on top of that.

The sushi pub - that’s really the X factor. That’s what will separate us from the other Bozeman sushi restaurants or sushi bars. I hear from people: “I love sushi but my wife doesn’t or my friends don’t.” So having an izakaya focus where there’s just as much focus on the non-sushi component, so we are just as much serving those guests as much as those that love sushi. Diversity of menu provides balance. It’s not an afterthought. It’s very much a part of the restaurant concept.

What challenges did you run into when planning this concept? How did you overcome or outmaneuver them?

Development of the space has definitely been a challenge. It’s probably the toughest year ever to try to build a restaurant and we went for it. Bozeman is booming, and our thought was, let’s make hay while the sun shines. We just went for it because we felt if we don’t move forward with it someone else is going to and we want to be as far ahead of the curve as we can. We’ve been running the construction project ourselves and that’s definitely been challenging at times with supply chain issues. Staffing is another big challenge, although I’m really proud of our team. We’re fully staffed on front of house and getting there on back of house. Our other three restaurants in Bozeman are fully staffed. It’s a huge testament to our managers and company culture.

What was it like planning a new concept during the Covid pandemic?

We’re very fortunate. Living in Bozeman, the demand for our restaurants has been through the roof since things reopened last year. The city is growing at an astronomical rate. We have all the demand we can ask for. In the grand scheme of things, not that much has changed other than trying to cope with the additional demand and find new solutions, which is a good problem to have. That’s why we’re opening a new restaurant. If we didn’t have all these customers walking through the door, we wouldn’t be opening Hachi.

What was most important to you to communicate, about Blue Collar and Hachi, through the Hachi brand?

We were definitely zeroed in on Hachi in the middle of the restaurant spectrum of casual to fine dining. We felt like we missed the mark a little bit when we opened Tanglewood, like we pushed Tanglewood a little bit too far to the fine dining spectrum and alienated some people. Sidewinders is the busiest restaurant in our company, and we look at that to steer a lot of our decisions. An issue that we ran into was that Sidewinders might have 45-minute wait. When we opened Tanglewood, the Sidewinders customers weren’t really willing to come over and eat at Tanglewood. They thought it would be too fancy, especially at the beginning when it felt fancier than it does now. When started talking about Hachi, we knew we didn’t want to do that again. That’s why we knew we wanted to put “pub” in the name. We could have call it an izakaya, but a lot of people don’t know what an izakaya is. “Sushi pub” made it really approachable and made it familiar to the Sidewinders’ crowd.  

Because branding is all about reputation management, how would you love for people to describe Hachi? What do you want its reputation to be?

We definitely want to be known for the really high quality sushi. On the sushi pub side of the menu, creativity is crucial: presentation, new flavors, spices and sauces. But it still needs to be familiar enough for people to try. Also, people just need to know if they’re walking in to Blue Collar restaurant that comes with certain expectations. It goes back to our “service first” model. You’re always going to have great food and drinks at a Blue Collar restaurant; but you should really expect to be blown away by the service.

You worked with us on strategy and identity. Can you give us an example of how you used that when planning the launch?

Hardy Brands definitely helped a lot with interior design. It’s impressive to me how far reaching and how many different areas of our business I find value from the brand strategy and brand development stages we go through with Hardy. There’s little Easter eggs I find, whether it’s in interior design or training staff or external communications with guests. It just never really ends. Branding has its reach into every aspect of our business. We are always thinking of the impact of our decisions and how our decisions are impacted by the brand strategy discussion. Is this decision consistent with the brand? When it comes to launching a new brand, it’s everything: interior design, uniforms, social media, menus, how we communicate about things like soft openings, advertising. It’s in the language we use in those communications. Again, the X factor, we ‘re not just a sushi place, we’re trying just has hard to focus on the non-sushi items. This carries over to everything we’re doing, down to the menu being 50 percent dedicated to sushi and 50 percent not. Brand strategy hits everything.

What should we expect when we visit Hachi for the first time?

You should expect a lively casual environment. You should expect an experienced and knowledgeable staff, a relaxed clientele. You should expect to see it evolve too. These are original concepts. We’re not building this out of a franchise book. This is all coming out of our imagination, and we think we have it figured out, but there’s still a lot to be developed and see how it grows. A lot of work has been done up to this point, but in the restaurant business, the real work begins when the doors open. On the sushi pub side, you’ll see us heavily focused on chicken dishes, which are really popular in Japan where they even have chicken-only restaurants. We’re going to bring in whole, locally sourced chickens and break them down to develop recipes around them. So it’s a sushi-chicken concept, but that might change. Maybe people will love it or maybe they will demand we expand another part of the menu.

What are you most excited about for Hachi and Blue Collar’s future? What can we expect to see from you in the coming year?

What I’m most excited for is the trajectory we’re on and the growth of the business and creating big opportunity for these key players, like Kyle and other people in our organization, where Blue Collar can really start giving back in a really big way to the people who have made this possible. We want to continue to grow and open more restaurants. But that’s only possible when we have the people to make that happen. So we’re really focused on being the best place to work in both of our markets. We’re really focused on creating an environment where people are excited to be here and they have great opportunities to create sustainable futures for themselves and their families in places that are notoriously difficult to create sustainable futures. Bozeman and Jackson are expensive. We want to build an organization that creates real opportunities to serve our community. That includes our customers but also our staff and community. Once we get Hachi off the ground, it’d like to see it come into its own in the next 12 months. Merry Piglets here in Bozeman is the next one on the horizon. (Blue Collar Restaurant Group began with its first restaurant, Merry Piglets in Jackson.) We don’t have a timeline set in stone, but if everything goes well, we could be looking at breaking ground this time next year.  

If you could give one piece of advice to someone opening a restaurant, what would it be?

The thing I struggled with the most at first is trying to do too much myself. A big part of our success in the business has been tasking people with real responsibility, believing in young people and people who might not have the qualifications on paper. But you spend the time coaching them, instead of doing it all yourself. Focus on becoming a people person instead of a task-oriented person. Eventually you need to rely on other people unless you want to work seven days a week. You need to learn how to lead through other people. Become more people oriented and less task oriented.

want to chat? give shane a ring

We’re always eager to talk branding with interested business owners.

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