Thriving cities depend on the adventurous among us, who alter the urban landscape when they forge their own successful paths.

Each month, we ask an influential San Diegan: What was it like for you in the beginning?

Sam Morikizono

Chef/Owner,  Tajima Restaurants,
Live: La Jolla
Work: Various locations
How Long: 16 years

What was the moment that propelled you to own your own business?
I have been working in the restaurant industry since I was 19 years old. I worked at multiple restaurants throughout the Midwest, Los Angeles, and I worked under head chef of Nobu Matsuhisa at the original Beverly Hills location. I worked as a prep cook, dishwasher, I started very low. In 2001, I finally decided to pursue my dreams of restaurant ownership taking over the Tajima location on Convoy. Before it was only Japanese clientele, but I was able to evolve Tajima’s menu to suit the modern palate while continuing to maintain traditional roots and cooking techniques.

What struggles did you face growing Tajima?
In 2014, I decided to expand Tajima into Hillcrest. Our third location was more focused on the ramen concept instead of Izakaya, like our Kearny Mesa locations. I wouldn’t say it was so much a struggle but it was definitely something new. Our Kearny Mesa locations were traditional authentic Japanese food targeted for Asian people and I wanted to draw in a more urban audience with our Hillcrest location. I decided on Hillcrest because it was a good location and it already had a lot of Asian restaurants in the area. Like any restaurant expansion, I wasn’t sure we would be successful, but it worked out great, and from there we expanded to the East Village in 2016, and then to our newest location in North Park in late 2016. Expanding outside of Kearny Mesa into San Diego’s uptown and downtown areas was a leap of faith, but in the end, Tajima has been so successful thanks to all of the wonderful San Diegans who have embraced us with open arms.

What was the riskiest business move you ever made?
The riskiest business move I ever made was opening the second Tajima location on Mercury. I was able to handle one location myself, but with two locations, I couldn’t oversee everything. I had to learn to hire a good team who I knew could help with my passion to make Tajima what it is today.

If you could change the past, is there anything in your career you’d do differently?
No, every step along the way has been a learning experience and allowed me to open and run Tajima with the knowledge and experience needed.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job” working for someone else?
Absolutely not, I realized I don’t like working for someone else. I have a lot of freedom now, I am basically my own boss and I have been able to preserve the purity of Japanese taste and style in my cooking.

What personality traits must a successful business owner possess?
A successful business owner must be hardworking, talented, generous and kind. 

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what three words describe how you might have felt?
Appreciative, accomplished and happy.