Sushi at heart

Vusi Kunene has a secret. He adores sushi. Years spent in the restaurant industry as a teenager fostered a love of food and cooking, but it was sushi that really won his heart. Strange for a young, black South African male, he knows, but who can deny their passion? “I loved the freshness of the ingredients and the art of sushi,” he says.

The secret sauce

By 2008, Vusi decided he was ready to launch his own catering business, focusing on functions and events. His secret sauce? A mobile sushi bar. “I used the sushi bar to draw attention to the business. I set up at food markets and events, prospective customers could taste the sushi, and of course if they booked me I would bring the sushi bar to them. It was a great marketing tool.”

Building momentum

The strategy worked well. Vusi had secured contracts at the Sandton Convention Centre, Africa Bike Week, the Soweto Wine Festival as well as with a number of corporate clients. In each case, it was the mix of great catering and fresh sushi that sealed the deal. “The mobile catering business was doing well, but I had always planned to open a sit-down restaurant as well. I just hadn’t found a location yet.”

Laying roots

It was at the Market on Main food market that Jonathan Liebmann, the developer of Maboneng Precinct, approached Vusi about his sushi bar. Was he interested in perhaps opening a small restaurant in the precinct?
“Jonathan had heard about what I did from other patrons and visitors to the market, and he had a space for me. I still do the market because it’s a great feature of the Maboneng Precinct, but now you can find us six days a week on Kruger Street as well.”
Opened with money saved from those weekend markets, the restaurant is a testament to Vusi’s determination and passion.

What’s in a name?

The business’s name started as a joke. “I’m a black man making sushi, and it often confused my patrons — particularly after they had tasted the sushi,” says Vusi.
“They would ask me what part of Japan I was from. I always answered, I’m not Japanese, I’m Blackenese, this is Blackenese. The name just stuck, and I thought it was perfect for my first restaurant.”
A firm fixture in the Maboneng Precinct, Vusi has also joined the Awethu Project, which is helping him develop his business acumen. The restaurant’s offering has also extended to sushi classes — South African style!

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