By Jeffrey the Barak
A controversial name for a club! Is it racist? Is it sexist? Or is it just a great name packed with humor and accuracy? This is an interview with Haruko, the Los Angeles entrepreneur who is the brains and the beauty behind Yellowtail, an exclusive club.
When Haruko first told me she was opening a nightclub called Yellowtail, I looked at the attractive Asian female watch dealer and gemologist and burst out laughing. A moment later I asked for an interview.
Haruko never uses her last name. In Japan she used it, but this is America, and people have enough trouble just saying Haruko.
We are on our way to a café to discuss her soon to open nightclub Yellowtail. With the traffic roaring by on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood, Haruko stops at a showroom window. This is the furniture district. We look at the designs through the thick plate glass. So modern they look like the early 1970’s all over again.
“You have to buy the whole theme”, she says.
And this is how she approached the concept for Yellowtail. Haruko grew up in Japan, and moved to Texas before she ever learned to speak English. In the café she orders green tea.
When did you move to the U.S?
1991. I came to the University of Texas as an exchange student. I could not read or speak English, but I could understand it. In Texas I learned to speak English in four months and moved out to California to the G.I.A., The Gemological Institute of America. I became a Gemologist.
I had worked at a marketing research company in Japan and specialized in jewelry stores. I decided to come to the United States and ended up becoming a gemologist.
But your main business now is dealing in vintage watches?
That’s all I do now, at least until Yellowtail is ready.
What made you decide to open a nightclub?
You know what? This is very profound. Basic desire. I like to challenge my creativity in any field I can. That’s why I got involved in this vintage business. Vintage watches are more fascinating, the designs and the history and political reasons behind the designs are much more interesting. This lounge business is part of my creative challenge.
As an Asian female, you can get away with calling this lounge Yellowtail. I couldn’t call a club that and get away with it.
Of course not, you’re a Caucasian and a male.
But yellow is offensive to Asian people, and tail is offensive to women. As an outstanding piece of yellowtail yourself, you can say the name!
Yes! It’s funny, but this is also the paradox. I am the one taking it. It’s really interesting that this country has so many tied up concepts about “you are black, you are male, you are female ”
They are obsessed?
Yes, obsessed with their categories, and the bottom line is, we’re really all human; just forget that.
Are you going to let humans come into the club?
Yes! Forget it! People, even you, end up being controlled by the images they have.
How would you describe the concept of the club? Is Yellowtail going to be a lounge?
A high quality lounge, with cocktails and very exclusive gourmet appetizers. No Entrees. Very quiet music to create mood and atmosphere. High quality furniture, subdued lighting, a socially acceptable place to come. A cool place to hang out for adults over 30.
A central bar with booths?
Exactly, yes. It will be very beautiful. There will be a huge fish tank underneath the bar. We are joking about fish.
But those are eight feet long; they can’t swim in the bar.
No, but there will be a lot of fish symbolism everywhere. Beautiful, high-class New York style for adults.
Now when you first hear the name Yellowtail, the assumption is there will be beautiful Asian women, and older white guys hanging around.
That’s the whole concept and also the target.
So when you hire the girls, what do they expect their role to be?
The hostesses, the waitresses will have very classic ultra sexy designer uniforms and obviously they will have to be quite beautiful and sexual.
There is no shortage of beautiful Asian girls in L.A.
There are very many young Asian girls with a lot of sex appeal who would like to work in a high quality environment. There will be a beautiful atmosphere, beautiful furniture, beautiful silverware, and beautiful uniforms. They’ll be serving very exquisite drinks. Why not?
So the busy time will probably be early evening?
Probably later, but we are shooting for the after work executives also. We have a private room and also conference facilities.
What about the female executives? Are you going to have handsome young Asian men for them?
Actually we are hiring all handsome Caucasian men! All bartenders have already been hired. They are actors/bartenders and they’re gorgeous Caucasians. All Caucasians.
Do you remember the case at Hooters, when a man tried to get a job and he sued them
He lost! The theme was girls.
So that’s encouraging in case anyone tries to do any funny legal stuff?
Oh yeah! Negative or positive, anything that is publicity, I’ll take anything. You know I might get sued for racial discrimination or even sexual discrimination, but this is a part of the challenge you know. We should not take this so seriously. We are humans. Don’t put yourself into little boxes. You are the loser if you are putting yourself in there. I really do think that. These are some of the basic questions I am throwing at society.
What will be the main source of revenue, the drinks?
Yes, the drinks will be exceptionally interesting. There will not be a membership but we do have a VIP system. VIPs will be given a precious gift. We will have a private bottle showcase. People can reserve their private bottles just for them, with their name on and kept in a locked case. This could be single malt Scotch or exclusive Japanese Sake.
The economy is not that healthy, and this is a high-end business. Does that worry you?
No, people drink when the economy is down. They have more decadence and more fun in such times. Statistics show that when the economy goes down, the alcohol consumption goes up. Leisure business goes up.
Have you decided on your final location yet?
Pending, but in West Hollywood.
It’s very difficult to park in West Hollywood.
It will be taken care of. It’s a very interesting business. You really have to know from zero to a hundred. From valet-parking to oil traffic in the kitchen. From how to read the blueprints in the remodeling process to how to negotiate with the lawyer about the lease. Managing people is the most difficult part.
My partner is an expert in restaurant management, and one of the main investors is quite a famous guy who owns a lot of clubs. He knows about the little holes we need to fill. Of course these guys are behind the scenes, I’m the one in front. Instead of people getting upset about the stereotypes, I’m there myself. It becomes the opposite. It doesn’t become offensive.
As in martial art, you use the power of your opponent and turn it against him. You become the one.
Yes, playing with the word, Yellowtail. Turn back the power, exactly.
The name Yellowtail is powerful.
It got me the investors. It’s not like Hooters though. They use the funny name, but it’s not a cool place to go and you don’t expect good food, exclusive drinks. Just sleazy guys watching football. Even sophisticated and cultured women can go to Yellowtail for exclusive food and cocktails. Cultured people usually get the joke and they don’t get offended. Life is too precious to be uptight about things like that, don’t you think? I do.
Yes it’s a waste of time and energy to be uptight. What happens if all of these beautiful sexy young Asian girls marry the clients and you run out of staff?
I’ll supply more. These people are not stable people. They are in between college and career, and they are always quitting so I’m not really counting on them to stay for a long time. I don’t feel any obligation to support their lives because they are unstable people.
They’ll probably make enough money there to buy their own health insurance etc?
And the money will probably be as good as they can get without having to take their clothes off?
Imagination is better than taking clothes off.
The costumes must be pretty hot.
Very beautiful in fact. By a well known designer. And they will wear high heels. It’s mandatory. Nobody can wear ugly shoes. Shoes are very important. They are sensual.
Will you combine your businesses and sell watches in the club?
No. I will keep them separate.
Do you draw a parallel with the Playboy clubs of yesterday?
What about the food?
We hired a top chef. It will be Asian food but not Sushi. That is overdone. It will be appetizers because people tend to not want to eat a lot in these situations.
Exactly! Asian Tapas. Funny you said that.
So it will be like Tapas and Tochus?
Especially for my Jewish clients yes.
Well it is L.A. If you’re not Asian you must be Jewish.
We have many celebrities who will be giving their names to the appetizers.
Like the George Bush Salmon?
I’m not powerful enough to know George Bush yet!
He’s too religious to go there.
And he doesn’t drink either. And I don’t consider him to be too cultured; he might not even get in.
Which celebrities have lent their names to the dishes?
I am unable to reveal that at this time, but we have certain people. It’s very exciting. There will be finger food and exclusive silverware and chopsticks. The details of the design are important. The linens are embroidered with the logo of the fishes. And there will be a very interesting cocktail menu and exclusive glasses. And an exclusive wine collection plus sake and green tea.
Our wall features falling water on frosted glass. The fish tank, low chairs and low tables are all part of the look. And we do have an area for acoustic performance. Nothing loud. People can sit and talk. A lot of consideration has been given to the lighting. I had to convince my partners of the importance of the fish tank. They will be blue fishes. We are using a lot of blue, not yellow, even though it is Yellowtail. It’s a soothing color.
We have a video screen system silently showing black and white Asian scenes. People may not always want to talk. It will be a quiet place. A couple can come in and be quiet. And we have very pretty girls, using the power that they have.
When do you think Yellowtail is going to open?
Six months is a realistic estimate.