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Sushi Pioneers

Pioneers serving their community created a new culinary trend.

Expanding Japanese Cuisine in the U.S.

Sushi History

As popular as it is today, it's hard to imagine that the United States first tasted Edomae-sushi only 40 years ago. The men and women who opened the first sushi bars in and around Little Tokyo in Los Angeles counld not foresee the enormous evolution of their centuries-old cuisine. The simplicity of fresh fish, rice and nori have given way to boundless creativity and ingenuity in American sushi cuisine.

A Foodservice Pioneer

Edomae-sushi or nigiri-zushi was first brought to the United States from Tokyo, Japan in the early 1960s. While looking for Japanese products to sell in the U.S., executives from Mutual Trading Company instead brought back an entire culinary experience.

During a trip to Japan, Noritoshi Kanai, president of Mutual Trading Company, introduced his American business associate, Harry Wolf Jr., to Edomae-sushi, which was not available in U.S.

Mr. Wolf enjoyed this culinary experience so much that an idea was born - introduce the U.S. to the sushi bar concept. Mutual Trading Company subsequently brought all the necessary pieces for a sushi bar to Los Angeles, and became instrumental in the sushi bar's introduction in the early 1960s. To learn more about Mutual Trading companies, please visit www.lamtc.com.

The Pioneers - First Sushi Bars in the U.S. - Little Tokyo - Los Angeles

Kawafuku Restaurant - First Sushi Bar in the US

In 1966, Mr. Nakajima opened the Kawafuku Restaurant in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles, the first to serve Edomae-sushi in the U.S.

Mr. Nakajima is the primary sushi pioneer in the U.S. Though Kawafuku - and other early restaurants - targeted Japanese immigrants, it was actually Japanese businessmen that first frequented the sushi bar. The businessmen would bring their American clients to experience Japanese sushi, and this inadvertent marketing success helped quickly expand the American desire for raw sushi.

Kawafuku's Chef Saito became the first American-based sushi chef, and his wife its waitress. In four short years Mr. and Mrs. Saito earned $30,000 - a small fortune. They returned to Japan and opened a gorgeous sushi bar in Ginza, Japan. As word spread that there were good business opportunities abroad, scores of young chefs frustrated with the rigid protocol of the Japanese sushi industry begin leaving for U.S. sushi bars.

Our search for more information of these pioneers continues, if you have any historical information about Kawafuku or its chefs in the 1960s, please email us and help us complete this story for future generations.

Eigiku - The Second Sushi Bar in the US

Sushi History

Ms. Morishita opened Eigiku, the second sushi bar in the U.S., also in the Little Tokyo area of Los Angeles. She recruited Sushi Chef Ono from Japan.

During this time, Eigiku and the other original sushi bars focused on catering to the many Japanese expatriates and businessmen who recently immigrated to the U.S. However, many brought guests who had never heard of a meal that featured raw fish, and the Americans embraced sushi and the chefs' artistry with excitement and wonder.

For over 60 years, the Morishita family has continuously owned and operated three establishments in the Little Tokyo area: Eigiku (dba Club Havana), Sushi Go 55, and Izakaya Haru Ulala, serving Japanese-style tapas. For more information visit www.sushigo55.com.

Tokyo Kaikan - Birthplace of the "California Roll"

At Tokyo Kaikan, Sushi Chef Mashita invented what is widely known today as the "California roll," possibly the first specialty roll in sushi cuisine.

According to Sushi Chef Imaizumi, who worked with Chef Mashita at Tokyo Kaikan, the California roll was created to substitute for a maki roll made with toro (fatty tuna). Because the fish was seasonal, the thought was to create a roll that had the similar texture and flavor as toro. By substituting avocado when the fish was out of season, Chef Mashita was able to recreate the roll, much to the pleasure of restaurant patrons.

We are still searching for more information about Chef Mashita but were fortunate to locate Chef Imaizumi who has greatly helped with the history.

Venturing out of Little Tokyo - West Los Angeles

Osho Restaurant - The First Sushi Bar Outside of Little Tokyo

Four years after the first sushi bar opened in the U.S., Mr. Kubo mustered the courage to venture out from the sushi haven of Little Tokyo.

Under the watchful eyes of his peers, Kubo opened Osho Restaurant, a spectacular sushi bar on Pico Boulevard in Century City just outside the 20th Century Fox studio. An anxious and overwhelming crowd of entertainment industry personalities frequented the 30-seat sushi counter. Yul Brynner was a lunchtime regular, making sushi the 'it' cuisine of Hollywood's most fashionable.

Following Osho's success, a number of Japanese chefs opened new sushi bars along Wilshire Boulevard. Expanding west through Los Angeles to the shores of Santa Monica Beach, the boulevard quickly became known as 'Sushi Row.'

Hiro/Teru Sushi - First to focus on American clientele

According to an AOL editorial, "[Many people attribute] Teru Sushi with launching the sushi craze in Los Angeles. There was sushi before Teru, of course, but mainly in places frequented by Japanese businessmen. Teru was the first sushi bar to cater to American tastes, and it's been packed to the proverbial gills ever since it opened."

To learn more about Teru Sushi please visit www.terusushi.com

National Scope - Benihana Restaurants Expand American Tastes for other Japanese-style Cuisine

At the same time sushi was first being served on the West Coast, another Japanese-style cuisine began to emerge on the East Coast. Hiroaki "Rocky" Aoki, a Japanese Olympic team wrestler and culinary entrepreneur, arrived in New York City in 1960, and four short years later opened the first Benihana Restaurant on W. 56th Street in New York. Opposite of the raw Edomae-sushi of Los Angeles, Aoki's Japanese steakhouse featured teppan-yaki - steel grill broiled meals, chopped, cooked and served at the table.

The Benihana Restaurant Group now owns and operates a variety of upscale sushi & Japanese fusion restaurants in the U.S., including Haru (NY), Doraku (FL), and RA (AZ, CA, IL, NV). To read more about Benihana and Rocky Aoki please visit www.benihana.com.

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