It’s not that unusual for me to spend a couple of fun-filled hours at Kuni’s, enjoying the food and the atmosphere at a restaurant that has become a longstanding tradition for many people in Buffalo. That was the case this past Wednesday, when I joined up with a friend to sit at the bar and partake in some sake, sushi and hard to find Japanese whiskey.
As we were sipping our after meal spirits, Kuniyuki ‘Kuni’ Sato (the owner) walked up to greet us – something that you don’t see everyday. After engaging in some small talk about the formidable whisky that we were sipping, Kuni offered up that we happened to stop in on the day of his 20 year business anniversary. We were blown away by the milestone bit of news. Judging by the reaction of his staff, this was the first time that Kuni let it be known that such a significant anniversary was at hand.
Many restaurant owners capitalize on their milestone anniversaries (and I don’t blame them). To me, Kuni’s nonchalant attitude is what makes him so special. No ego whatsoever. I am sure that if we hadn’t been talking about the various dates of the whiskeys, he never would have divulged that he was experiencing such a remarkable occasion.
After learning that Kuni’s had been around for a couple of decades, I asked Kuni if he wouldn’t mind answering a few questions for BRO. Seeing that Kuni has been an institutional part of the fabric of the Elmwood Village, and of the entire 716 for that matter, I was curious to know what made the guy tick, and how he managed to attain such thriving longevity.
What are the highlights of your career?
20 years ago, the moment I opened the small restaurant on Elmwood. It was like a dream.
Name something that you wish you had done, but haven’t (yet).
I did everything I wanted my best.
What is your most important lesson?
When I lived in Tokyo working for a coffee machine company, my old boss always said to me “Keep going forward, you can slow down, but don’t stop.
Name a life lesson for a Buffalo restaurant owner.
I’m the worst business owner in Buffalo. I’m cranky, not friendly, always tired, lazy… I shut down Elmwood store just because I was sick of it. I can’t give other people an advice. This is only thing I can say to people thinking about opening a restaurant – “Do not do it.”
Where will you be in 10 years?
I will be making ramen noodle in Buffalo.
I really don’t have regrets. I am grateful to be where I am more than I can dream of. I did everything I wanted to do and I think I will do the same in the future.
What is the key to your success?
I’m not sure. I just make food the way I want. Maybe, it happened to fit the people’s taste?
Kuni speaks from the heart. His sentiments translate to his space, his menu and his team. Kuni’s is one of my favorite places in Buffalo. The food is consistent and his team is always smiling, having fun and providing a special experience to everyone that walks in. Kuni’s is also home to a couple of my favorite Japanese whiskeys, Yamazaki and Hibiki.
When asked if I could mention anything else that has contributed to the success of the restaurant, he said, “I want to say thank you to all people supporting me for many years. I can’t say thank you enough at my restaurant. Buffalo people are very kind to a strange guy like me – more than they should be. I wouldn’t be here without their kindness.”
Kuni Sato, thank you for being you and congratulations on the tenure of your restaurant. I look forward to the ramen noodles – kanpai!