Interview with BAR TIMES STORE Ambassador Kazuaki Nagao ②
In April 2023, we had the pleasure of conducting a commemorative interview with Kazuaki Nagao, who became a BAR TIMES STORE Ambassador. In this project, we not only delve into his role as an ambassador but also share his story as a bartender, including the reasons behind choosing this profession and the allure it holds. With a wealth of stories to share, we present the three chapters: [Bartender Edition], [Vietnam Edition], and [Ambassador Edition]. In this second chapter, we will take you through Nagao's experience in the resort city of Danang, Vietnam. We will explore the challenges he faced during the establishment of his bar, his participation in a cocktail competition, and his journey in mastering English communication skills.
Troubles arise as construction of the store comes to a halt, but together with my companions, we overcome the challenges.
BAR TIMES: Mr. Nagao, as the manager of "Bar LIBRE Danang Rooftop Bar," you had decided to go to Danang, Vietnam alone. What was the biggest challenge you faced?
NAGAO: Firstly, in the month leading up to my departure for Vietnam after joining the company, I had to learn the ways of "Bar LIBRE," including recipes, preparation methods, and flavors. It was incredibly tough to absorb such a massive amount of information, and I barely slept during that time. On top of that, Seizaki-san told me, "You should also work on your English skills" . I really had no room for any extra tasks.
BAR TIMES: I imagine there were even more challenges awaiting you on-site.
NAGAO: Well, first of all, the construction progress was practically non-existent. The contractors not showing up on time was expected, but eventually, they stopped coming altogether. So, we had no choice but to redraw the blueprints ourselves, cut the wood ourselves, transport it on bikes, and build the counter. It was like the knowledge I gained from studying architecture in vocational school came to fruition at that moment .
BAR TIMES: It seems like you went through quite the baptism in Vietnam .
NAGAO: Well, instead of mixing cocktails, I was mixing concrete the whole time after arriving in Vietnam haha. After all the hardships, we finally completed the counter, and the first drink we made was eight glasses of Gin and Tonic. We all raised a toast as a team. It tasted incredibly delicious, considering the struggles we went through. Also, I have fond memories of a sudden power outage, where all the ice in the freezer melted, and we lit candles, enjoyed the night view and sound of the waves from the rooftop, and drank lukewarm wine with the staff and customers .
BAR TIMES: How did you acquire English communication skills?
NAGAO: In Vietnam, everything from conversations with the staff, shopping, to meetings, was conducted in English, so I initially had difficulties. I learned survival English because if I didn't speak, I couldn't communicate. Customers would even teach me phrases like, "Kazu, say this, it sounds cool." Moreover, the building owner would dedicate 30 minutes of his time every day to teach me English at a café. And since he would take me to different cafes each time, I also learned my way around town. Everyone was so kind to me, and I genuinely feel blessed to have met such wonderful people.
Mr. Nagao shares memories of the struggles he faced during the establishment of the Vietnam Danang store.
He mentions that when the construction contractor stopped showing up, he and the people around him collaborated and worked together to build the store from scratch.
Overcoming various accidents, "Bar LIBRE Danang Rooftop Store" opened. They took a commemorative photo with the staff members who had worked hard together.
The problem-solving skills and teamwork I developed through those difficulties are now fueling my passion for customer service and competitions.
BAR TIMES: Even amidst such a busy schedule, I heard that you continued to participate in competitions.
NAGAO: Yes, one of the most memorable ones was the "Tito's Cocktail Competition DaNang." It was a city-wide competition, and I participated with a partner. Since I barely understood English at the time, we divided our roles, with me handling the cocktails and my staff partner taking care of the English presentation. During the preparation for the competition, we went to local markets together to find unique glasses, learned about the local culture, and incorporated it into our cocktails. It was an exciting experience.
BAR TIMES: How was the competition itself?
NAGAO: On the day of the competition, we created cocktails while being moved by my partner's captivating presentation in front of a large audience. There were often unexpected incidents during the performance, and I felt the excitement of adapting on the spot and the importance of teamwork, which are highly valued in the international style of competitions. I believe that experience has influenced my subsequent participation in competitions and my customer service at the bar.
BAR TIMES: What are some of the things you learned during your time in Vietnam, Mr. Nagao?
NAGAO: It's about enjoying the circumstances you find yourself in and having the mindset that things will work out somehow. Additionally, I learned the importance of working as a team, focusing on a common goal, and building connections with people.
BAR TIMES: You've been with "Bar LIBRE" for six years now and currently serve as the manager of the Ikebukuro branch.
NAGAO: This establishment has always been cherished by Seizaki-san. The name "LIBRE" means "freedom" in Spanish, and I aim to create an environment where each staff member can express their individuality while maintaining an authentic atmosphere. Following Seizaki-san's example, I strive to observe and cater to every customer's needs while providing a lively and comfortable ambiance. It would bring me great joy to create extraordinary experiences for our customers.
Here is a snapshot of when they participated in the "OPIHR World Adventurer Cocktail Competition". Although they missed out on the championship, they achieved a good performance.
A snapshot in Vietnam. Mr. Nagao, completely at ease with both the environment and the people, appears relaxed.