The most fashionable potato in the East

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The most fashionable potato in the East

The statement “This is by Super Potato” not only gets attention, it turns an ordinary conversation into an interesting discussion of design, trends, food and dining.
No, Super Potato is not a genetically altered vegetable. It is a Tokyo-based design firm specializing in restaurants, bars, department stores and hotels. Super Potato Co. was founded by Takashi Sugimoto in 1973 in Tokyo, and has become a brand that investors, clients and designers love to namedrop, as if to ensure the economic and social success of a project.
By the mid-’90s, trendsetters in Tokyo had begun noticing and following the trail of Mr. Sugimoto’s unique touch, sometimes without knowing of his involvement. Shunju, a chain of Japanese izakaya, or Japanese dining bars, specializing in Asian fusion cuisine, and Bar Radio, for example, had become favorite spots of a couple of jet-set hoteliers from the Hyatt chain, who were looking for a new partner in their growing business.
Super Potato’s big break came when the firm’s second commissioned work, at the Grand Hyatt Singapore’s restaurant Mezza 9, came to be well known among the international hotel chains. More popular restaurants in Hyatt hotels in the Asia-Pacific region seem to have secured Super Potato’s reputation as a hitmaker.
Super Potato’s rule for expansion is simple: go to a new city and become a new trendsetter. In Korea, too, Super Potato has planted its seeds. One of the latest and largest is Restaurant 8 in the newly opened Hyatt Regency Incheon.
The IHT-Joong-Ang Daily caught up with Norihiko Shinya, the executive designer of Super Potato, who recently visited Seoul, to discuss his experience in Korea.

What does Super Potato mean?
It was the founder’s nickname when he was young. He first opened Potato Studio. When the business gradually expanded, he renamed it Super Potato. Mr. Sugimoto is now 58; nowadays he spends his time directing design and teaching in Musashino Art University.
I’m one of two senior executive design directors, and there are additional 15 designers, who are all Japanese. I’ve been with Super Potato for 15 years since I got in after graduating university.
How many restaurants, bars and hotels has Super Potato created?
Countless. Maybe more than 1,000 all over Japan since the ’70s. We have so many projects with Hyatt. We just finished Red Moon bar and Made In China restaurant in the Grand Hyatt Beijing and an entertainment complex in Grand Hyatt Shanghai. We’re going to do the restaurant in the new Park Hyatt Beijing and the entire design of the Park Hyatt Hotel Seoul due to open in 2005. We also work with the Hong Kong-based Shangri La hotel chain. We’ve done a Japanese restaurant in the Novotel and have recently finished the interior design of a new Korean restaurant near Dosan Park in southern Seoul. And we have worked in London, Monte Carlo and Las Vegas, but they are too far to travel back and forth for me.
How do you work with your partner at Hyatt?
Mr. Stalder and I talk and spend a lot of time trying local varieties of food and culture that are not so well known in other countries. In Korea, I found there are many local dishes that are delicious and cheap. Just the other day, I tried gejang deopbap [seasoned fresh crab over steamed rice] in Sinsa-dong, and it was very delicious.

How would you describe the characteristics of the Super Potato design?
Contemporary, artistic and natural. Natural means we use natural materials, such as solid wood and stone. Often, the surface of the stone is rough, or we just place natural stones.

What are the challenges in creating restaurants in a city where you don’t live?
We’re used to small spaces in Japan. In foreign countries, we need to be able to incorporate local culture, and often we have a very large space to work with. With both Mezza 9 in Singapore and Restaurant 8 in Incheon, I had the challenge of working with such space; Restaurant 8 covers more than 1,500 square meters (16,000 square feet). To create a cozy atmosphere, we brought in the hotel’s operative style and made multiple restaurants. I divided the space into many smaller rooms and placed steps, blinders and dividers everywhere. An open kitchen is also one of the highlights.

by Ines Cho
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