Oggi’s: Colonies Crossroads Story
By Neil Nisperos, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
UPLAND -- Kenji Perez — a self-reported direct descendant of the most famous samurai in Japanese history and the former head animator for one of Japan’s most popular animated series — is bringing his life’s lessons and philosophy to his next venture: opening an Oggi’s restaurant in Upland.
Oggi’s, an Orange County-based sportsbar chain known for its beer and pizza and pronounced oh-Gees, recently opened in May at the Colonies Crossroads shopping center and has since become, according Perez, number one in the chain for sales out of 18 locations throughout California and Arizona.
Perez, 45, is the great-great-great-great-great grandson of Miyamoto Musashi, a key historical figure and the hero and author of “The Book of Five Rings,” which many consider the “Gone With the Wind” of Japan. Perez was also an executive producer and head animator on the popular series “Rurouni Kenshin,” which was adapted from a popular Japanese manga about a wandering samurai.
Among the many quotes etched on glass decorative elements inside his restaurant dining floor is one from Perez himself: “Strength and growth are the integrity of the Empire.”
Not the one of the sun. The one that struck back.
Above the quote is the emblem of the Galactic Empire from “Star Wars.” Perez calls his restaurant “The Empire” to communicate that his employees are part of a powerful group. He even plays the “Imperial March” musical theme from the movies every morning to get his workers in the spirit.
Strength, power, discipline and growth are ideas that mark Perez’s philosophy in running the restaurant, inspired by his previous career and in learning about Miyamoto Musashi.
A manager’s message is placed in the bottom of the computer terminal for restaurant employees, “Don’t underestimate the power of the Empire.”
“When you put things like that in there, they think, ‘I’m part of a strong group,’” Perez said, “I’m part of this entity. It’s good because they feel like they’re part of something. You don’t want employees to feel the part of the same ritual. You want them to be part of something unique. Something with strength.”
Discipline and awareness of one’s surroundings are key, Perez said, echoing the code of the Samurai.
Yes, we’re still talking pizza.
“When it comes to serving, perceive that which cannot be perceived, and by that I mean be aware of everything,” Perez said. “You can be the greatest server, and the only way to achieve that is to know what you’re doing at all times and let it flow.”
Perez said he sees the management of a restaurant in the same way he sees story development in animation, with his employees as “characters” he can match with the role at which they most excel.
Perez, originally from Kyoto, Japan, has dual citizenship with his father having been in the military. He emigrated alone to the United States at the age of 15. With a natural talent for illustration, he was called to work at Sony animation by a close friend’s father who was an executive at the company.
He worked as an animator and producer for Sony on a variety of productions from 1994 to 2003. Since then, Perez has worked in a variety of roles in the restaurant industry, including server and manager.
The Upland Oggi’s location is Perez’s first role as an owner. Perez said he has preliminary plans to open two more, possibly in Redlands and Ontario.
“If you have a restaurant that’s just a stand-still restaurant, and you’re not willing to upgrade it, then you know what, it’s just going to be standard,” Perez said, “You want to transcend. You want to become the epitome of that one restaurant, where the other ones want to follow or learn from it.”
The Upland Oggi’s is located at 1173 E. 19th St., Upland. For information, go to upland.oggis.com, or call 909-949-8868.