Sushi Katsu closing after 24 years

  • Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

    Sushi Katsu chef and owner Katsunori Shintani is ready to take an order behind the sushi preparation counter.

  • Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

    Irrashai! The sign welcoming guests to Sushi Katsu says it all at the lobby to the Tip Top Cafe and Motel on Aikahi Street in Lihu‘e.

  • Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island

    A Katsunori Shintani creation from the Sushi Katsu kitchen.

LIHU‘E — Conditions from the COVID-19 pandemic trimmed the usually full Sushi Katsu to exclusively phone-in and take-out orders at the Japanese restaurant that takes over once the day is complete at the Tip Top Cafe.

The flood-to-trickle traffic will be ending Aug. 30, when Sushi Katsu chef and owner Katsunori Shintani will shutter the doors on this chapter of his life.

Announcement of the Japanese restaurant’s closing spurred a surge of activity from the community, anxious for final tastings before the doors close for good.

“It is amazing how news spreads very quickly,” said Mai Shintani, Katsunori’s daughter. “We are overwhelmed with the support from our community. When I made this heartbreaking announcement on our social media, I’ve received an overwhelming amount of comments about wonderful memories of families and friends celebrating different milestones at our restaurant.”

Sushi Katsu opened its doors in December 1996.

“Almost 24 years,” Chef Katsunori said. “My son is a fireman, my daughter lives on the Mainland. Time to take it easy, now.”

Mai said she and her brother grew up with Sushi Katsu.

“Day and night, Katsunori went to work with a smile on his face, truly devoted to the craft,” Mai said. “We learned firsthand what it meant to have a passion for something and to work hard for it. As we grew, the restaurant also grew with us. The employees at the restaurant became extended family members, and our loyal regular customers became our aunties and uncles that surrounded us with love. Sushi Katsu truly became a special place, and an important part of our upbringing.”

Katsunori, born and raised on a small island off the coast of Hiroshima, Japan just like Kaua‘i, had two big dreams — to become a chef, and to experience life beyond Hiroshima.

Following high school, he packed his bags and traveled to Osaka. On the first step toward chasing his dream he enrolled in culinary school. Training continued following his graduation at the different ryoten and ryokan around Japan until he landed at a global Japanese restaurant, Furusato.

“This was a pivotal moment in his life because it launched his career and life ‘beyond Hiroshima,’” Mai said. “His first posting was in Manila, Philippines, where he was welcomed with love and support from the local people. He submerged himself into the local culture and even learned a few Tagalog and Ilocano phases, filling his heart with experiencing life abroad, doing what he loved, and sharing his passion with the people of the Philippines.”

Following this period of growth in the Philippines, Katsunori hit another milestone.

“He was offered another posting to a very special place that turned into our forever home — Hawai‘i,” Mai said. “He started working in Waikiki, and then, in the 1980s, after he met my mom, destiny brought them to Kaua‘i.”

Since then, with the support of local businesses such as the Hanamaulu Cafe, Hanaya (restaurant), and Tip Top Cafe, Katsunori was able to continue growing, learning, and building relationships across the island which eventually became the strong foundation he needed to start his own business.

“As my family prepares too close the restaurant at the end of this month (Aug. 30 is the final day), we are overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support from the community,” Mai said. “When people started sharing their memories of Sushi Katsu on social media, it brought tears to our eyes. We have received handwritten letters and cards filled with memories sent by patrons from the outer islands and even the mainland. These memories are forever treasures we will keep in our hearts.”

Katsunori, when asked about his feelings, simply said, “Kansha no kimochi,” or a deep feeling of appreciation.

“All throughout these years, thank you,” he said. “My heart is filled with appreciation. With the community’s support, we were able to successfully continue to serve the island of Kaua‘i. I am deeply appreciative of all the relationships over the years.”

Mai also expressed her pride and joy about the Japanese restaurant that does not even have an outdoor sign — just a hand-painted sign that screams of its character.

“Celebrating Sushi Katsu is recognizing and cherishing the positive impact it had around our community,” Mai said. “Dad, we are so proud of you and what you have built. You leave behind a legacy — 23 years of local business, 23 years of building a community, and 23 years of making a positive impact on the lives of families.”

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