'We are struggling': City sushi restaurant blighted by Covid and Brexit

Hamit Sert, co-owner of Soyokaze - a Japanese restaurant on St Giles Street in Norwich. Picture: Dan

Hamit Sert, co-owner of Soyokaze - a Japanese restaurant on St Giles Street in Norwich - Credit: Archant 2021

Problems with importing ingredients, rising prices and Covid-cancellations have left an authentic Japanese restaurant struggling to survive. 

Soyokaze Japanese Restaurant on St Giles Street is among many city businesses which have are reeling from the affects of both Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic. 

Co-owner, Nevenov Belchinov, said the restaurant was forced to increase its prices just before Christmas due to the increasing costs of importing certain ingredients and products from Japan – some of which have almost doubled.  

The Soyokaze Japanese Restaurant in St Giles Street in Norwich.

The Soyokaze Japanese Restaurant in St Giles Street in Norwich. - Credit: Nevenov Belchinov

“Sometimes people come and have dinner with us and they go home and post a review,” he said. “They say ‘it’s really cosy place, the staff are friendly and the food is delicious — but it’s a little over-priced'.  

“That makes me sad because for the last three years we haven't increased our prices, but if I show you the emails that I receive from our suppliers you would be shocked. They just keep increasing their prices. 

Sushi made at the Soyokaze Japanese Restaurant in St Giles Street in Norwich.

Sushi made at the Soyokaze Japanese Restaurant in St Giles Street in Norwich. - Credit: Nevenov Belchinov

“Maybe 20pc of the products that we buy from them have increased by 10pc to 30pc, it’s a ridiculous amount. Their explanation for that is because of the freight and transportation from Asia. 

“Three years ago, we bought a bag of wasabi for £7, now we pay £14.” 

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Problems at the border and a lack of lorry drivers — both issues blamed on Brexit — have meant some of the restaurants orders have never arrived.

On top of his business's money-worries, the 37-year-old says he is working all hours because he is unable to employ another chef and staff are forced to take time off work because of Covid.  

Sushi made by the Soyokaze Japanese Restaurant in St Giles Street in Norwich.

Sushi made by the Soyokaze Japanese Restaurant in St Giles Street in Norwich. - Credit: Nevenov Belchinov

And back in December, as the Omicron variant rapidly spread across Norfolk, Mr Belchinov said they around 10 cancellations a day. 

“We are struggling but still go on," he said. "It’s very tiring because I work more than 60 hours and I don’t know how long I can do that. But I don’t want to close. 

“It’s heart-breaking because your business is like your baby. It grows, you see the changes, guests come and eat and it’s nice to see when they are leaving with happy faces. That makes me happy.

Soyokaze, a Japanese restaurant on St Giles Street in Norwich.

Soyokaze, a Japanese restaurant on St Giles Street in Norwich.

“The government didn’t want to go for another lockdown – which I understand. It’s good the economy is moving forward, but when there is no lockdown, it’s the businesses which are left carrying the burden. 

"There needs to be more support.” 

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