Montreal Community·2022 Asian Heritage Month

Opening a business during a pandemic takes a village

Noriko Suzuki could not have started her own business without support from her community.

Montreal koji soup business started in kitchen of Indian restaurant

A woman poses at a counter
Noriko Suzuki started her koji soup business in the kitchen of the Indian restaurant. (Tim Chin/CBC)

Noriko Suzuki could not have started her business without support from her community.

The former systems engineer left her home of Japan in 2017, getting her start in Montreal working at Buffet Maharani, an Indian restaurant in Parc-Extension.

Her husband, Yota — a sake master — later joined the restaurant to prepare the naan. But after a few years learning the business, Buffet Maharani owner Masum Rahman encouraged the couple to branch out on their own. 

"I was always telling [Noriko to start] a business because I've been doing business for over 35 years. I always told her that we are immigrants, we come here, and I know work is good," says Rahman.

Two men and one woman pose at a counter
From left to right: Buffet Maharani owner Masum Rahman, Koji Soupe's Noriko Suzuki and Yota Suzuki (Tim Chin/CBC)

So they opened Koji Soupe in 2020 — creating their first products in Buffet Maharani's kitchen in the midst of the pandemic.

Koji Soupe specializes in koji, fermented rice used to make sake, miso, soy sauce and salts. It's a key ingredient in Japan, providing umami flavour to many dishes.

Noriko says the support from Rahman was instrumental in helping her get started.

A person prepares food in a kitchen
Yota Suzuki in Atelier San-ô, where Koji Soupe operates. (Tim Chin/CBC)

"Rahman is a partner and helps us a lot. We really appreciate that," she says. 

Koji Soupe now operates out of its own space, Atelier San-ô on Jean-Talon Street near Décarie Boulevard, where they prepare and sell their products. 

Noriko says the local community has been so welcoming as they launched their business. 

"I was a bit hesitant to expose myself to [starting a] business during the pandemic. We are a visible minority but we really try to adapt to the society of Quebec, including my kids," she says.

"But once we started, we got so much appreciation from customers … it is really the best point [of having our] own business."

May is #AsianHeritageMonth and to celebrate, we've profiled Asian-Canadian businesses from across the country that are at the hearts of their communities. And for more Asian Heritage Month content, visit CBC Gem for a new collection of series, documentaries and films that honour the rich culture and talent of Asian-Canadians and follow the hashtag #ProudlyAsianCanadian on social media for more inspiring profiles. You can see profiles of other Montrealers here.

A yellow and red graphic that reads" Asian Heritage Month"