After venturing deep into a sickeningly sweet (think: three-inch layer of birthday cake icing) and questionably deviant pink-plastered Maid Café NY last month, we realized that there were many questions left unanswered. What we know: There is a Japanese-inspired café in New York City where you are greeted as a "master" or "princess" by cute girls dressed as maids. What we don't know: Uh, sorry, why?
Gothamist interviewed the owner of Maid Café NY, Satoshi Yoshimura, and uncovered answers to some questions you did or perhaps did not think to ask. Is this supposed to be sexy? No. How many New York women are vying for this job? 80 to 100. Will there be a roving pink-painted Maid Café van stocked with precious little maids blasting Japanese pop music and traveling around America? Soon enough. Read on for more.
Why did you open in Chinatown? People who know about Japanese culture and anime like the concept of the maid café. All those people in New York City come to Chinatown for "Asian cute stuff." We were deciding between the East Village and Chinatown. But people come to Chinatown for cute stuff.
Chinatown is drastically changing right now. It's trying to modernize. A lot of new stores are opening up like Japanese noodle stores, Korean cosmetic stores. Not only is Japanese culture moving into Chinatown, but Asian culture in general is moving in.
How is business? The Daily Newswrote about us and that was huge for us. Before The Daily News and Metro wrote about us, we mainly hosted the people who know about Japanese culture. Now, we have more of the general population. I want this maid café to be like a California roll. A California roll is not really sushi in Japan. But it's popular in America. Without the California roll, sushi would not be popular in America.
Could you describe your clientele? I was surprised! After our grand opening on August 18th, I was surprised to find out that 16-20 year old females are very, very attracted to this because of the cute pop setting. This, in Japan, originally attracted mostly males. Not here.
But there are men who come here because they think the maids are cute. What are they like? Has anything strange happened? Nothing weird has happened. They're very nice people. It's different in Japan. In Japan, the people who are interested in these cafés [otaku (read: nerds)] are very shy. I think there's a huge cultural difference because I was surprised to find out that American otaku express themselves very well. The ones in Japan do not socialize. That is what makes the ones in Japan, maybe, creepy. It's different here.
by Gothamist/Marc Yearsley
Huh. I heard that, in Japan, maid café employees are often stalked. I was concerned about that. But nothing has happened. We have similar safety parameters to what they have in Japan. Our store policy on giving out private information is very strict. No touching or anything, obviously. I tell the maids to say that it's store policy that they can't give out any information. It's the same in Japan.
But there are some aspects of your café that are different from typical Japanese maid cafes. In Japan, the maids chant spells over drinks, draw cute things on omelets, and play games. What services do you offer here and how are they different from Japanese services? Some of the media has misunderstood our maid café. Maybe they read somewhere about maid cafés in Japan and mixed up information - they wrote about us like we were doing the same thing. We only have special events that approximate Japanese-style maid cafés. We make it more easy and understandable. We have a light table service.
(As he talks, a 30-something professionally dressed gentleman is standing next to a maid, chanting "cute, cute, cute" in Japanese with his hands in a heart shape. Another maid is taking a Polaroid.)
But what is this activity? We have a Polaroid service for five dollars. They take a picture and write a message on it. They write a lot of cute stuff, a personal message. The maids also greet customers in Japanese, saying in Japanese, "Welcome home, my master and princess." And when they go, they say in Japanese, "Have a nice day, my master and princess." They also bring food decorated with cute stuff. Curry with heart-shaped rice, decorated sweets.
I purchased the Maid Cafe NY heart-chant-photo-whatever service, but ha-ha you don't get to see the Polaroid. By Gothamist/Marc Yearsley
Last time I was here, I saw the maids getting on their knees to take orders. Do you instruct them to do that? Reni Mimura is our producer of this café. She provides the entertainment and service side of this operation. Remi tries to train these girls. But it takes a long time for modern American workers to understand Japanese service. It's a natural thing in Japan. In Japan, hospitality is everything.
When somebody comes to serve you, their line of sight should not be above the customer's. They have to come down below the customer's eyes.
Interesting. But do you see how an American could perceive that differently? What do you mean?
I mean, couldn't somebody view it as being, like, sexual maybe? Really? Well. Huh. [long pause] Well, I guess that's the hardest part of bringing over different cultures. I've been here for 23 years but there are a lot of things I don't understand. The reason why I didn't bring over a true Japanese-style maid café is that there are so many things that probably people don't understand or take differently.
by Gothamist/Marc Yearsley
As people become accustomed to this, do you see this café becoming more Japanese-style? Or will you stay Americanized? If I compare right now to when we opened it, I'd say that it's getting closer to Japanese-style. There were a lot of things I didn't think Americans would understand, but they do. I was surprised! I thought that a lot of people would be offended by some "sexual thing."
Why did you think that a Japanese maid café would resonate with American sensibilities? First of all, cuteness: "kawaii" style. I really think that kawaii style, or a cute decoration of the space, clothing, food, and hospitality, would really work. Also, Japanese anime is becoming much more popular and this maid café theme is very popular in Japan. But new people are coming in who don't know about that.
Okay. So, what is your hiring process like? Do you hire the maids? I do. I have a lot of inquiries. I have 80 to 100 people on the waitlist to be a maid.
Wow! Are they mostly Japanese girls? No! Not at all. Just, so many people.
Why do you think they want to work here so much? Do you pay well? Because it's cute. And, no, we do not really pay well. We don't pay much.
Tips? They're getting higher tips now. They get tips in a tip jar, I guess.
by Gothamist/Marc Yearsley
How do you choose the girls?
We look at their resume for restaurant and café experience. Dependability, of course. Punctuality, attentiveness.
Do they have to be interested in Japanese culture? No, but they are.
Are there height or age or cuteness parameters? No. It's all about being a good employee. It's not that easy. The reason why so many people don't get hired is that they think it's all about cuteness and fun. It's really a lot of work. It's a serious business.
But in Japan, the girls have to be very attractive so that the young men come. Like I said, I'm not targeting male customers here. We're targeting the general population, female and male.
Do you think maid cafés will catch on? I do. I think the time is right. I think more will open. Especially in different parts of the United States. DC, Boston, Baltimore. I have been discovering the demand for cute culture in America. I was surprised to find out that there was no maid café in New York City.
by Gothamist/Marc Yearsley
Do you have any plans for the future? I'd like to do more events in the café. Many of the maids are singers or dancers.
Dancers, like, sexy dancers? Or Japanese pop dancers? No, no, no, not sexy. Japanese pop style. I'd like to promote them as entertainers. I'd also like to do a mobile maid café that goes around the continent.
What? I'd like to promote Japanese culture. We'd go around in a big van with a bunch of maids, live entertainment. I'd like to bring artists from Japan and go on tour.
Would you paint the bus all cute? Yes! Of course.