Sake Anniversary - True Sake Turns 9
Well, let's say time flies!
On August 7th True Sake celebrated its 9th Anniversary. That's pretty cool, and we owe it all to you great people. Thank you for your support and your fascination for sake. In a word, we could not have done it without you! (Read the next section called Sake Deals for your reward and a token of our appreciation.)
To honor this glorious milestone I thought that I would share some funny tidbits about the store that you may not have known, but probably could have guessed would have happen under the less-than-stellar leadership of a dorky guy from Ohio who decided to open the first dedicated sake store outside of Japan.
So what follows is a list of 9 "blunders and wonders" to celebrate each year that we have been peddling sake from our humble abode.
- You Forgot To Measure The Doorframe!
Ha! This one still cracks me up. Originally I wanted to have a huge walk-in fridge for the sakes, but I was also going to try and have a tasting bar and did not have the space. So I went shopping for sake fridges. Like a babe in the woods I wandered the rows of fridges looking for "Cool looking reefers." And voila they found me, because I saw two models made by a company called "True." Fate! So I bought them right then and there and had them delivered the next day. Doh! They didn't fit of course. So I said to take them back and the delivery guy looked at me like I was the dullest tool in the shed. I think he even said, "What were you thinking pal?" Then after a chuckle he recommended just pulling the doorframe off, which we did later that afternoon. The entire doorframe was removed and the gaping hole was pretty cool. I still laugh to myself about going out of business or quitting, and how in the hell those babies will get removed.
- Is That Baby Loaded?
When I started renovating the store one of my first projects was to clean up the window display. It was a disgusting mess, so we decided to lift the whole elevated flooring up to clean it out. Yuck! It was horrible. There were Chinese food containers still filled with petrified rice and things. There were shirts still in their original packaging. There was a "Tab" can, which was cool! And amongst various other crap I found a gun. No not a Dirty Harry Special, but a broken really old piece that had to be at least 50 years old. The handle was split in two and the barrel almost looked flaccid, but it was a gun! I was thinking that maybe it was the missing weapon of a famous murder mystery. Nope! But the gun did go missing and to this day I have no clue where it went. (And my fingerprints were on it!)
- I'm An Idiot!
Yup! Pretty much! When I designed the store, I also designed the cabinets. Mr. Designer-Guy had a great idea to play with light and the bottle glass color. I wanted to make a functional cabinet that not only looked fabulous but also acted as a storage unit for sakes. Yes indeed! Good thinking in theory! But, what are the two greatest killers of sake? UV light and heat. I managed to design the worst sake cabinet ever! Well done! The next time that you come into the store, behold my glorious blue cabinet disaster that should not be so large, and should actually be storing bottles of sake. But no! It is purely decorative now! That said it does heat sake up to a nice mildly warmed temperature, but that is sheer luck!
- Is That A Poodle Over There?
Many people ask what True Sake used to be, and I know for a fact that the last incarnation was a vintage clothing store. My first year I would get countless lost looking people with questioning eyes asking me where the vintage clothing store is? You are standing in it! No way! Damn! I'm outta here! Rare was the person who said, "Well this sake thing is pretty cool at least." As time went by I would get many old-timers who would come in and tell me what my store had been in the past. Video store, printer, dog grooming and pet store were to name a few. I do know that when I was building out the store I brought one of my Irish Wolfhounds who ran to one corner and commenced peeing. "What in the hell are you doing?" She had never done that before and only later would I realize that she had smelled the store's past.
- The Hook!
Being the master carpenter that I am I took it upon myself to figure out a way to hang the cedar ball (Sugidama) that gently swings outside of the store. I didn't have any tools or a clue as how to hang it, so I went to a hardware store to figure things out. I could not decide on a single method on how to do it, so I bought several "systems" to play with. This meant that I bought various hooks and hanging things. I then realized that the process was out of my job scope, so I was left with these hanging devices. One was a large unassuming looking hook. I left it on my sales counter for several days. On one of those days a reporter for TIME magazine was interviewing me and specifically asked about the hook. Is this an instrument in the sake making process? Without hesitation I said absolutely not. Then what is it? I told him that I keep that hook on the counter as a subliminal reminder that I want everybody to get "hooked" on sake, and then I followed it up with "responsibly hooked on sake." He wrote it down and the hook has been there ever since.
- Ugggghhhh The Stickers Keep Popping Off!
I hate price stickers. Hate them. I hate bar codes too. So when it came to how I was going to "price" the sake bottles I had a dilemma on my hands. I went to Staples and Office Depot looking for the answer. Basically I settled for these clear stickers that look like bookmarks with a yellow top were you could write the price. So I spent 4 hours writing a price for each sake that was on that shelf or positioned on the table and adhered the stickers to the surface and the racks. Then I sat and watched each of the stickers pop off in the fridge. They would stick for seven to ten minutes then literally plopped off. I was pissed! So back out I went. This time to the hardware store looking for something "solid." And that is when I thought about the washers. Bingo! I would hang washers around the sake's necks. Perfect! But wait! What if I used different color cords to hang the price tags? And the rest is history.
- You've Got To Be Kidding Me?
Okay, let's get back to Mr. Design Guy! When I designed both light cabinets I knew the bottles were the important part. For the light tower I saw beautifully back lit sakes that stood tall and proud. Now remember, I was the designer is "theory" and I used "professionals" to execute my creations. With the light tower, which has been featured everywhere from the NY Times to CBS Sunday Morning, I was extremely proud of the look of the standing 1.8L bottles and the 720ml together. I had given my builders both sizes of bottles and said to make certain that they would fit on the shelves. Fast forward to the day that they were installing the unit. I was so stoked! It looked great and I was selecting what cool bottles to put on each shelf. I placed a 720ml and it looked awesome. I lifted an isshobin (1.8L) bottle and "donk!" it didn't fit! No way! You bone heads! And that is why we don't have 1.8L bottles on the tower.
- I'm Sending It Back!
When I made my first large order to initially stock the store I did so with great precision and passion. I had identified 100 sakes that I knew inside and out, and commenced ordering. (If I recall my initial buy in was $35,000) I was so excited when they first arrived from 8 different distributors. I was equally excited placing them in the new empty fridges and on the sawhorse table. (Yes before the cool surfboard-shaped table I used plywood and two saw horses) When I focused my attention to one batch of brews from one distributor I noticed something was wrong. What the hell? They had delivered sake that was over two years old. No Way! I called them and said come take it back. Huh? You want to return it? You bet your butt I do! You do? Of course, and never sell me old sake again. What is old sake? Oh my god, put your manager on the phone. Eventually I spoke to the owner of the biz and told him that I would never accept old sake again, and he said that I was the first client to ever return sake. Today we are very good friends and he has credited me for keeping the sake industry in SF fresh and consistent.
- If You Spray It It Will Die!
The absolute most difficult item to source for the production of True Sake was the sugidama (cedar ball) that hangs in the front of the store. This item, which you all know about, is essential to have in front of a sake store. In this regard, I searched high and low in Japan to obtain one. And with the help of a friend I was put in touch with a guy who would sell me a new fresh one for a ton of money! As they are made of fresh cut cedar trimmings I assumed that I would have to declare it, and tell the proper importing authorities of what to expect. In this process they told me that it would be quarantined for a month and sprayed with a substance to kill any alien bugs. No! Please don't spray it! It's meant to be green in the beginning. You will kill it! That is not our problem. Crap! So I told the guy who I was buying from the bad news, and he told me to watch my mail box. Basically he sent it via regular mail and I received it in 6 days later. It was fresh and green and all I could do was laugh!
- I Don't Get Your Walls!
I love the painted walls at True Sake. Many people do! But every once in a while I will get a person who asks, "What in the hell do your walls means?" Well they don't mean anything! But I designed the paint job after seeing a picture in a magazine of a guy's room that had lots of silk covered cabinets of various shapes and sizes. I was enamored with the spaces between the closed cabinets, which were all varied. I loved the odd shapes. So I told my painter what I wanted and he did a great job. The next time in the store look at the walls and think of the black lines as spaces between oddly shaped cabinets. Also look at the door way and you will see a pencil lined stripe that accidentally never got painted black.