Behind the Counter | Ep.8

Fernando Sánchez
Fernando Sánchez
June 30, 2023 • 5 minutes

Quality and local adaptation as the keys to pioneering sushi delivery. The story of Kibuka.

Not so long ago, Japanese restaurants in Barcelona were a space reserved only for the privileged few. Now, after the pioneering work of entrepreneurs like Oriol Ruiz, sushi –the most international icon of Japanese gastronomy– has been democratised in the city with places like Kibuka, a spot that’s  committed to high-quality products at a suitable price for all budgets. 

With several locations in the city, three open to the public and two for take away & delivery, this June, with International Sushi Day, we stopped by one of their spaces at Carrer de Goya 9 in the heart of Barcelona’s Gràcia district to find out more about Oriol and Kibuka’s 20-year journey. 

He is waiting for us in a Mets t-shirt –he must have become a big baseball fan during his time in New York– and a cheerful smile framed by a dark beard and moustache. He knows us, he has been collaborating with Glovo for almost 5 years now and although he confesses that he would prefer not to use delivery, he recognises that it is essential for the current pace of life in the city.

A Japanese restaurant with New York vibes and Spanish essence

“More than 20 years ago, when I was living in New York and working as a cook, I was very attracted to Japanese restaurants because they were the best, cheapest, and coolest. At that time, in Barcelona, Japanese restaurants were very expensive, the kind of places you go to with your parents, so it was clear to me that I wanted to create something with that New York atmosphere – more trendy, casual and with the principle of eating quality food at a good price.” 

It was then, on my return to Barcelona while I was working in a bar in the Gracia neighbourhood that I met one of my current partners, Jordi, and together with his brother-in-law, the three of us decided to set up Kibuka.”

Kibuka: a name inspired by Japanese theatre

“I am also an actor, so to pay homage to my passion, I wanted to name the business Kabuki –a form of traditional Japanese theatre characterised by stylised drama and the use of elaborate make-up on the actors–, the essence of which you can see in the venue through the decoration and details. However, the name was already registered and, after many other options crossing our minds, a friend with whom I studied marketing suggested keeping the original idea but changing the syllables of order:  Kibuka. This way the individual kanji characters were still present –the syllables or kanji characters read from left to right mean ‘KA’-singing, ‘BU’-dancing and ‘KI’-skill.”

Mastering the art of westernising the product

“When we started, although I was a cook, I had no knowledge of how to make sushi, so we had to rely on chefs and sushimen to teach us. The figure of the sushiman is very important, its origin is in Tokyo bars where these professionals are used to working in front of the public, without a kitchen, with 6-8 stalls where they make a multitude of dishes at the same time. The concept is: you are in my house and I feed you. 

Our secret for the last 20 years is that we have known how to westernise our offering and although we have all the hot cuisine and classic sushi, we decided to specialise in rolls and try out new maki recipes with more local flavours.  The offering continued to grow, always focusing on quality, and today we must be one of the restaurants with the greatest variety of sushi, with 40-45 different ones. For example, ‘The Tataki Uramaki’ is a classic which has been with us for the longest time with tuna tataki, avocado on top and filled with shrimp tempura.

“Having a pre-covid delivery structure saved us”

“Back in 2011, when there were no platforms, I had my own delivery but luckily one of your salesmen came to see me just before the pandemic and showed me the numbers of another restaurant that worked with Glovo. I was convinced, signed and started to collaborate with you, and thanks to having the structure already in place, I was able to survive  COVID, having our Kibuka Verdi venue as our delivery operations centre. 

If it were up to me I would only focus on feeding my clients in our restaurants, but I have understood that delivery is key and forms part of the current pace of life in cities.” Kibuka currently has two of its venues dedicated solely to delivery and take away and, in the last 3 years, the group has grown by an average of 62% annually in orders received through Glovo.

“Above all, you have to know how to approach delivery and know your product in order to select which dishes are suitable for this type of service. Our experience has also made us very fast, so to the extent that you reduce both preparation and delivery times, you are improving the user experience”.

Another chapter of Behind the Counter shows us the reality of a local business like Kibuka, in which Oriol not only bet on a new product in the city, but also knew how to adapt and democratise it, being a pioneer in the world of sushi and delivery in Barcelona.