A Fateful Dinner in 1965 Led to a Food Revolution in US

'Los Angeles Times' explains how Noritoshi Kanai and Harry Wolff Jr. popularized sushi
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 14, 2023 1:50 PM CDT
A Fateful Dinner in 1965 Led to a Food Revolution in US
A fateful dinner in Tokyo in 1965 paved the way for America's love of sushi.   (Getty / Ridofranz)

If you've ever been to a sushi bar or even tasted the Japanese dish, the credit might belong to two men described by Daniel Miller in the Los Angeles Times as the "ultimate odd couple." Harry Wolff Jr. was "an imposing Jewish man who’d cut his teeth as a bouncer at nightspots in his native Chicago." Business partner Noritoshi Kanai was "a trim Japanese man who’d served as a quartermaster in the Japanese army during World War II." They'd met by chance at a trade show in Chicago in the 1960s, and traveled to Japan in 1965 looking for a food product that might fly in the US. One night, they visited the family-run Shinnosuke restaurant and sat down for what has since become a legendary meal. Sushi was on the menu. As Miller recounts, Wolff was hooked immediately and eventually convinced Kanai to embark on an ambitious venture.

The idea wasn't merely to start serving sushi-like meals back home in Los Angeles. Rather, they would use Kanai's wholesaler business, Mutual Trading, to import pretty much everything needed to serve sushi, "from the nori to the knives," writes Miller. "The aim, in essence, was to create a sushi ecosystem for Los Angeles. Would it work?" Look around at the vibrant sushi industry in Los Angeles today—and the clones they spawned across the country, such as the Nobu chain—for your answer. The story traces the early days of the experiment, including how ideas that might be considered sushi "heresy" in Japan (such as the "love boat" serving for two) were incorporated into American dishes. And it also includes the personal histories of the two men, both of whom are deceased, and their business falling out years after their revolutionary experiment. Read the full story. (Or check out other longform stories.)

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