We had the good fortune of connecting with Kaz Matsune and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kaz, what do you attribute your success to?
What is the most important factor behind your success / the success of your brand?
If I were to pick just one factor that led to my success, I say it’s my determination.
“Determination” may sound like a big thing, but in reality, it comes down to “a single choice.” It’s very simple.
It goes back to when I started my sushi career in the year 2000. I was hired on the spot during my first job interview despite my lack of restaurant and professional culinary experience. But I made one simple choice to work and be a successful sushi chef no matter what.
I worked 14 hour days with low pay, but I never thought of quitting. Never thought it was hard work. In fact, I was having the time of my life because I was determined. I knew everything I did took me one step closer to my success. It was fun.
It led me to work under many great sushi chefs, who taught me what I know now. I believe they taught me because they sensed I was open, willing to learn from them no matter what. Even if they decided not to teach me, I would continue my journey and eventually meet someone else who would teach me what I wanted to learn.
When I started Breakthrough Sushi in 2012, it was the same: I made a choice to make the business successful no matter what, whatever it takes. Giving up was never a choice for me. That was the only reason I am still in the business today despite the sales dropping 90% in 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Because I was willing to do whatever it takes when facing a challenge, I was willing to try everything and anything that could work. This is vital to the success of a business because you fail more than you succeed. When you are determined, you will continue to try, explore different ways to make things work before you give up.
As for the success of my brand, my focus has always been on what our customers will get, not what we offer.
Breakthrough Sushi offers sushi classes and sushi dinners, but what we really offer is an experience. Sushi is just a tool we use. I look at the company as an educational and entertainment company.
As such, the company’s success is measured by how our customers felt: fun, entertaining, informative, delicious and so on. It’s their emotional response I look for after each event. This is why you see so many pictures of our attendees holding a plate of sushi, smiling during the class.
Also, I used “Chef Kaz Matsune” as a brand to gain our customer’s trust.
Therefore, I tried to get as much media coverage as possible.
Luckily, many local tech companies like Adobe, Eventbrite, and Grammarly used “Chef Kaz” for their commercials. Grammarly commercial was especially helpful – after some 30 million views, even a stranger came up to me during the sushi dinner party we were serving, asked me, “Hey, is this you?” holding a smartphone with the Grammarly commercial.
Writing and publishing four books helped to establish credibility as well. I wrote over 300 answers to sushi-related questions on Quora. Some of my answers were published on Huff Post and Slate.
When I started Breakthrough Sushi in 2012, no one knew who chef Kaz Matsune was. I didn’t work at a Michelin star restaurant. I didn’t run a famous sushi restaurant in San Francisco. But now, Chef Kaz Matsune is somewhat known in the sushi industry.
Though I don’t feel like it, apparently, I am a big success for this sushi chef in South Africa.
It’s peculiar – You just don’t know who knows you and who is watching you what you do these days.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Please tell us more about your business. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about.
Breakthrough Sushi is the first and only sustainable sushi class company in the US. We offer sushi classes (both in-person and online), a live sushi bar and private sushi dinners.
Also, as of August 2021, we are also the only company that sends the sushi kit with fish to all 50 US States and Vancouver.
How did you get to where you are today business-wise. Was it easy?
Never-ending improvement. I always asked myself, “How did I do today? “What could I have done it better or differently?” I continued to do just 1% better than the last event (I think). After ten years, it got me to where I am today. It’s very simple, not easy thing to do, but it’s not that difficult thing to do either. All you need to do is to ask, and do it. That’s all.
If not, how did you overcome the challenges?
Determination. Willingness to do whatever it takes to make it work.
What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. a
• Be honest
• Be on time (or be 10 minutes early)
• Be open
• Be impeccable with your words
• Say thank you a lot
• Say sorry a lot (especially when you make a mistake and even when it’s not your fault)
• Never take it personally
• Always blame on a situation, not on a person
• Never wait to tell something when you can tell them now
• Treat everyone equally, but treat your regulars (or best customers) special
• Always do your best (or better than yesterday)
What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
Please read my 350-page memoir: How I became a sushi chef. It’s all in there.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Order a burger and fries at Boat House Cafe in (San Francisco) Golden Gate Park. It’s one of the best-tasting burgers in town no one knows about.
Lasagna at Pizza Emporio in Berkeley is not food, but a drink.
Corona Heights Park, San Francisco for a great view of the city and a small hike
Mud bath & Hot Springs in Calistoga
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Graham Kerr, The Galloping Gourmet My wife