Local Legends: Yang Han - Owner of Mr Joe Japanese Fusion Cafe and Restaurant
Today we are joining by Yang Han. Yang, along with chef husband Martin, own and operate Japanese fusion cafe and restaurant Mr. Joe. in Richmond Victoria. Yang is a very special character for us at A Local Beer as Mr. Joe was the venue the founders of A Local Beer went to for dinner after our launch party in February 2019. We met Yang and told her about the beer and she then became the very next venue to proudly serve A Local Beer! Yang is always ready with a smile (even beneath a facemask) and an infectious laugh and it was still on show as I went in for a chat to find out how Mr. Joe came to be and the lessons learnt from the difficult COVID period.
Hi Yang, Thanks for joining us today could we start off by talking a little bit about Mr. Joe and how it came about?
No problem! So Mr. Joe has come about through the shared passions of my partner, Martin and I. We used to have a cafe that we ran because I have a passion for coffee and my partner is a chef and so his passion and journey here was through food. Cafes are great for the coffee but there are limits on what you can offer with food so Mr. Joe is our opportunity to focus more professionally on the food, to do something exciting and unique. Martin and I want to push his boundaries and get creative with more non-japanese flavours and techniques. A great example is a poussin (chicken dish) you had the other day.
I did have it and it was delicious! Haha. Thanks well you told me you liked the Tom Yum sauce.
It was Tom Yum Yum!
Haha Well, the dish is unique because Tom Yum is a Thai soup but we concentrated it down into a sauce for the chicken so it’s dishes like this, that make us unique. we want the experience to be one you could only have here. The number one thing we want customers to experience is delicious food, but number two is something different! So we say here we are more than cuisine.
More than cuisine, I love it because that’s the feeling I get every time I come in here there is always something new, fresh and exciting. We shouldn’t forget the drink options as well!
Well, I’m not a professional bartender but we love classic cocktails and we also love playing with Asian ingredients to give them a twist. For example our Negroni we add some Umeshu (Japanese Plum Wine) which gives a little bit of sweetness to a normally bitter drink.
Well I had this yesterday and Yang and I was a bit disappointed...
...because it as so delicious I drank it too fast! I would say you’re a professional bartender!
Hahaha, Thankyou. The same as the food menu we like to keep the cocktail menu limited but keep it fresh and exciting. We have some great wines and of course A Local Beer! We will always make room on the menu if any more come.
Haha Yang there will definitely be more beers to come and you will, of course, be the first to get your hands on them.
Now the name is very intriguing but I've never asked you, who is Mr. Joe?
Mr. Joe is actually a Japanese musician and composer. His real name is Joe Hisaishi. He has made music that me and my husband both really love. He has done the music for movies like Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro. The music just adds so much colour and adds so much to the stories and every time we hear his music it has a real calming influence. It has a way of stirring up memories and has this real emotive response. We want our food and experience to inspire those same feelings.
Well I do love those films so thanks for enlightening me! How has COVID affected your business and what have you learnt from it?
COVID has had a big impact. - In terms of the way we operate we have moved away from more Japanese tapas-style dishes designed for sharing to more larger dishes that are better suited for takeaway so people can still share dishes but also eat them on their own.
The last few months have of course been really difficult but there are upsides. When we started Mr. Joe we weren’t sure whether to focus more on the cafe or the restaurant but now we are more certain that it is the restaurant side where our passion is and where we want to direct our time and energy. So it has given us an opportunity to change Mr. Joe and reflect and focus on exactly what we want Mr. Joe to be. It has shown us that we know we are people who will never give up. Even before COVID the first two years of starting a business we put so much into this place. It’s beautiful and we love that we have turned something that was impossible to possible. Now we have an opportunity to focus on ourselves and to change ourselves and find balance in our lives. It has also given us an opportunity to adapt and evolve. To take the slow moments to work on ourselves to be better people and a better team for the customers when we can welcome them again.
Yang you are already a pretty amazing person so I can't imagine what an even better Yang will be next time I can sit in!
And do you have any advice for people like yourself going into hospitality or other business?
Well maybe not advice for everyone, but from personal experience, I can say that do something that you enjoy. Don’t push yourself doing something that you don’t because in the long run, it will take its toll. It will kill you. You need to find a balance and work more with less.
So wise Yang! I almost feel bad that we have to segue from that lovely point to our low-brow traditional final question- Who was your childhood celebrity crush?
Ahhh I well have to say, Johnny Depp. But not any more!
Haha, that’s a good choice! Who would it be now then?
Umm maybe less of a crush but I admire Robert Downey Jnr.
Well I approve both those choices! Thanks for joining us Yang.
Mr. Joe is located at 362-364 Burnley St, Richmond and is currently operating Tues - Sat from 11am - 7:30pm
Pre-ordering is appreciated (did we mention the food is incredible!) and can be done from their website https://www.mrjoeallday.com.au/
Give them a follow on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/mrjoeallday/