Naomi Nakama – Ark coffee

Our previous hospitality profile, Yuki from Tanpopo Ramen in Auckland, nominated Naomi Nakama – Ark coffee director, artist and designer – as our next subject.
He said, “She is a passionate artist, and also a passionate cafe owner. I like her hospitality style, she treats the customers with grace, all people have a peaceful and relaxing time.”

Interview and portrait by Aaron McLean

Q. How did you get into the hospitality game?

A. I started my shop with my sister when she decided to have her own coffee roasting shop.

Q. New Zealand has historically seen hospitality work as something you do to pay your way through university, not a long-term profession in and of itself like in some other parts of the world. How is hospitality work viewed in Japan where you come from?

A. I think there’s a similarity in Japan if you focus on the big cities, but Japan is such a diverse place. You’ll find pretty much any cuisine you want, from big cheap chains which are probably run by many students and part-timers, to the other extreme of passionate professionals who give top world-class service and would have been running their business for decades, carried through to the younger generations. So within the hospitality industry there can be quite a difference in the sense of style and professionalism. Another fact is that in Japan things change and move constantly. New trends come and quickly vanish and people tend to move from one to another quite rapidly. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I’m not too sure…

Q. What’s the most important thing hospitality life has taught you?

A. I guess to put myself in the customer’s shoes, imagine what would make them happy and to deliver the best that I can at the time. It’s also given me greater people skills. I’ve always been someone quite happy being in the background, doing my own thing. I think it’s still in my nature to be quite reserved and never imagined myself doing what I am doing today. But I’ve run our business for almost five years now and I think I have gained so much more confidence in my work in general, and myself.

Q. What’s your favourite spot to enjoy a feed in New Zealand – with a friend, or a group of friends. Restaurant, bar, café, beach, or…?

A. Home is my favorite spot. Buy good ingredients and put together something delicious. Good wine is essential! To enjoy it with family is the most precious time for me.

Q. Is the customer always right?

A. I don’t think so, but I try to make every customer happy to the best of my ability. Every customer, every experience, always broadens my horizons.

Q. What does good service mean to you?

A. It gives comfort.

Q. Describe your perfect customer.

A. One with a happy smile.

Q. What are you going to be drinking during the cold winter months? Have you got a recipe for us?

A. Glühwein (warm, spiced wine) is one of my favorite things in the winter. Just a bottle of red wine with some water, sugar, your favorite spices (I like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg) and lemon zest. Bring to just before boil (so the alcohol doesn’t vaporize). It’s a perfect warming drink on a cold winter’s night.