In July 2016, KEYAKI COFFEE opened in a town called “Nanairo No Sato” in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, that was newly born after the Great East Japan earthquake. The owner of the coffee shop, Yusuke Matsuki, a native of Sendai , quit his job as an aircraft mechanic at a big airline and founded the coffee shop after the earthquake. He specializes in specialty coffee because “I want to use the best coffee because of my personality” he says. What is the story of Yusuke, who continues to operate his business in order to create a “relaxing place” in his hometown?
To bring a scene he has seen in San Francisco to Sendai
KEYAKI COFFEE’s second store, Oroshimachi store, is located on the second floor of a building where the first floor is a bakery called “Boulangerie Girafe”. Customers can enjoy Girafe’s bread with KEYAKI’s coffee. Yusuke decided to open his second house in the building because he could not forget the scene he had seen in San Francisco when he was an aircraft mechanic.
“I still remember an impact of what I saw there. In the specious store, there were roasting machines and espresso machines, and you can see the whole process of making coffee. The barista was talking to the customers while brewing coffee, and they looked like they were having a great time.
Whether it was a weekday or a weekend, many people would come drink coffee and have small talk in the morning. That’s how people living in San Francisco start their day. I saw coffee as an important tool to live a colorful life.”
Oroshimachi store opens at 7:00 in the morning. The spacious, calm, but lively store reminds us of the scene he saw in San Francisco.
“Six years has passed since I started my own business, the dream I had been envisioning is finally becoming a reality.”
The Great East Japan Earthquake made him decide to open his coffee shop that is close to what he saw in San Francisco.
To be able to put into action when he thinks of it
Yusuke’s dream since childhood had been to work at Sendai Airport. As his parents took him to visit there, he developed a longing for the sky.
After graduating from high school, he got into vocational school to become an aircraft mechanic and studied hard and made his dream come true. He started to work at Haneda Airport.
“I really enjoyed my job. I came to work two to three hours before the regular time to study to get qualified, thinking that I would be able to work at Sendai Airport in 10 to 15 years.”
The earthquake struck in the spring of 2011, at the end of his second year as an aircraft mechanic.
“My hometown, Arahama, was swept away by the tsunami. All the houses were gone, and I lost all my memories. I could not contact my family for about one week and my neighbors lost their lives. From that point on, I was unable to work at all.
In Tokyo, where I was working, lifelines had been restored quickly and everyone went back to normal after the disaster. But in my town, many people were really suffering. I just couldn’t take that. I was wondering “How can everybody just live a normal life?”. I strongly felt that Tokyo was not where I belong to, and I wanted to go back home real soon.”
Just let me go back to Sendai, that was his only wish at the time. However, even the act of going back was not an easy thing to do as an employee of a huge company.
“I had to suppress my feelings and work. I had asked the company to get a permission to go back to my home but that was not easy. I felt helpless. After spending many days like that, I made a resolution to quit being a “salary man”. I guess I wanted to be able to take action whenever I felt like I need to do something.”
In his early 20’s, Yusuke decided to start his own business. It must take courage to quit his dream job. Perhaps he was trying to live honestly in the face of reality that had changed drastically after the earthquake.
Creating a place to “relax” in Sendai
Yusuke had several options when he decided to be an entrepreneur in order to create a place where everyone could gather and relax. While he was thinking of becoming an interior designer or a furniture maker, it was by chance that he came across coffee.
At that time, the main branch of Sarutahiko Coffee had opened in Tokyo and magazines such as “BRUTUS” were featuring coffee. Coffee was a “boom”.
“I’ve always liked to drink coffee and was interested in it, so I decided to visit cafes in Tokyo. Basically, many of them were run by the owner alone or by a few people, so I thought I could do this.
I also noticed that when I had coffee, I felt relieved. I should describe it as “the power of coffee”. That experience made me decide to open a coffee shop where everyone that had been going through difficult times can relax, be naturally energized and smile in Sendai.”
Since then, Yusuke had used the time he used to spend on studying to get qualified as an aircraft mechanic to learn more about coffee. He also had started to read books written by famous entrepreneurs and specialized books on psychology.
An attitude learned from the World Champion Barista
However, Yusuke did not have a concrete roadmap for realizing his goal.
It was during those times that he decided to join Maruyama Coffee because he was attracted by the environment where professionals aiming for top level, such as Hidenori Izaki, the 15th World Barista Champion were working.
“I’ll never forget the impact I had when I attended an event where Mr.Izaki performed a presentation in the company as a preliminary to compete for the World Barista Championship, that was after two months I had joined the company. I could see him winning the championship. I was so overwhelmed by the power of his eyes and words that I don’t remember the taste of coffee I had that time, but I clearly remember how he brewed a cup of coffee as hard as he could. “
After working at Maruyama Coffee for three years, Yusuke opened his first coffee shop at Sendai . He thought the sooner he started his own business, the sooner he would be able to achieve his goal of having his own ten stores.
“I have liked to set certain goals and work to achieve those goals since I was young. And I guess I can even enjoy boring tasks. I think it is better to set your goals as high as possible to not dismiss your daily work.”
After graduating business high school, Yusuke enrolled in a vocational school to become an aircraft mechanic. At first, he thought he could realize his dream if only he could graduate, but it turned out that only 25% of the students can become an aircraft mechanic.
“I knew I had to study hard because I just could not waste tuition. (laughter).”
Yusuke went to the school earlier than anyone in the morning to study. After three years of hard work, he finally realized his dream to be an aircraft mechanic. Because of that experience, he now understands that the only way to achieve your goals is to work hard every single day.
It was a good timing for Yusuke to open his first shop because at that time he could use his rights as a victim of the earthquake to rebuild his house in the inland area and was able to build the first shop in a place called “Nanairo No Sato”. Perhaps, destiny was on his side as he believed in coffee and wanted to become independent.
Coffee has the power to make people relieved
A barista, who won the first place for “AeroPress” which uses air pressure to brew coffee, works for KEYAKI COFFEE. Her name is Michiko Obara.
Yusuke and Michiko practiced together to compete in the Japan AeroPress Championship.
“I told her to think of the judges as everyday customers and that she should be able to do what she has always done in her usual work. I was playing the judge roll and sometimes I told her “This coffee is too hot. You should pay more attention to the judges”. Maybe I was too strict, but that’s because I really wanted her to win.
We never cared about other competitors. That might be the reason why she could win the championship because she was only thinking of the judges who drink a cup of coffee.”
Yusuke’s philosophy on work is consistent in his daily business at KEYAKI COFFEE.
“I always think that customers can tell whether a barista pays attention to them when they drink a cup of coffee. That’s why I want my staff to be sincere and energetic in brewing coffee. If I judge a staff is not being sincere, I may remove him or her from the barista position on some days. For customers, a cup of coffee we serve might be the first one to drink that day. If I were them, I would not want to drink coffee that was brewed in a sloppy way.
Yusuke’s strict way of teaching his staff is out of his love for them.
“These days, basically you can have a tasty cup of coffee anywhere. The development of coffee machines is so astonishing that coffee that does not require human beings is also certainly good.
Given that situation, a barista needs to be more passionate about coffee and more sincere with customers. If we could give customers satisfaction, make them feel that they feel so happy that they could drink our coffee, then we would be able to survive in this competitive world. I want to operate a coffee shop where many baristas who are sincere with our customers are working.”
He wouldn’t had opened coffee shop if there was no earthquake
Born and raised in Sendai , Yusuke’s dream was to be working for the airline industry. Even after he realized his dream to be an aircraft mechanic, he went to the office to study hard to go back to his hometown and to work for Sendai Airport. Nevertheless, “that day” 10 years ago has completely changed his life.
“If the earthquake had not struck, I would have continued to work as an aircraft mechanic. To this day, I still can’t go back to my home, Arahama, and I won’t forget the people who lost their lives because of the disaster. However, because of that experience, I am now able to look forward and work hard.”
Yusuke always looks for the future after he became independent and keeps challenging new things. Recently, he has developed new menu that is KEYAKI COFFEE’s first original blend called “Moku” and “Tsuki”.
“Since April 2021, we have started roastery seriously. There were many limitations when we bought coffee from other shops such as not being able to make our original brand, or the costs are expensive. I thought that if we would open more stores in the future, there would be a limit if we keep buying coffee from outside.
We had been examining roasting since last December and we had decided that we would never serve coffee that was not worthy, no matter how much we lost money. We never want to betray our customers.”
These new challenges are tied to his future vision of opening 10 coffee shops.
“Eventually, I would like to let my staff roast our coffee. To do that, I have been gathering various data about roasting. I’m prepared to give that to my staff. I am doing this based on the goal, opening 10 stops of mine.”
Yusuke believes that coffee has a power to enrich people’s life. We are sure that he will continue to create a “relaxing space” in Sendai.
“There are customers who come to our shop from both local and distant places. The more people become interested in coffee, the better the other coffee shops in Sendai can do their business. I am so happy to see more and more people are connecting because of coffee. I always hope that KEYAKI COFFEE can contribute to the local community.”
Written originally in Japanese by Daiki Yuasa
Photo by Kenichi Aikawa
I like to drink coffee on my day off. Coming to my store and brewing coffee only for myself made me think that coffee is wonderful.
I also like to drink coffee that someone has brewed for me. A cup of coffee that people make for other people is so great that you can’t brew for yourself. And I would like to serve that kind of coffee at KEYAKI COFFEE.