‘When passion pays, it pays big, because it pays in both money and fulfilment’
I walk down the street with Vusi Kunene, owner and founder of Blackanese Sushi Bar, as he high fives and shakes the hands of other restaurateurs and locals. Everyone seems to know Vusi and here’s why:
Vusi believes the ‘hospitality business’ is exactly that: about being hospitable, because for him, as much as you are selling food, you’re also selling service.
He grew up in Mpumalanga and, after finishing high school, moved to Johannesburg where he began working as a car guard. Through his tenacity he found a way into the service industry by waitering in restaurants and working for events companies, during which time he discovered he had a real love, and talent, for serving people: ‘I fell in love with food but I also fell in love with serving people, and that love and passion just hasn’t stopped’.
Learning to love sushi in Cape Town
Vusi then worked between Johannesburg and Cape Town managing restaurants and learning the business side of the ‘food business’, but it was in Cape Town that he discovered his passion for sushi. For Vusi, sushi making is an art form: a cuisine that is associated with tradition and culture and he found himself obsessed by it.
After training as a sushi chef he returned to Johannesburg and started up a mobile sushi bar, working at food markets and at events, he says it could be pretty comical at times: ‘I was the only black guy in the markets and, of all things, I was the one selling sushi’. He was working at a function when someone asked him where in Japan he was from, he simply answered ‘I’m not Japanese, I’m Blackanese’ and, after laughter had subsided, the name stuck.
‘I’m not Japanese, I’m Blackanese’
Vusi had a pop-up sushi stall at The Arts on Main market which is how he met Jonathan Liebmann, Maboneng’s developer. Jonathan would come and have sushi every Sunday and they began talking; after experiencing Vusi’s enthusiasm and hearing his story, Jonathan couldn’t wait to help him make his dream come true, and the rest, as they say, is history.
We move over to Blackanese and Vusi shows me around the trendy, but simple, setup, ‘It’s a casual environment, but we don’t treat our customers casually’. He says that the African market are still getting used to the idea of eating raw fish and that his African customers often aren’t too fond of the notion of sashimi right away, but Vusi reminds me that ‘sushi’ in its definition is the combination of rice and vinegar and that raw fish is just one the ingredients you can add to that.
‘Afrocentric’ in its sushi style
He wanted to create a sushi bar that would inspire people who usually turn their noses up at raw fish to gravitate towards trying it and he did this through a cleverly designed menu. I’d go as far as to call it ‘afrocentric’ in its sushi style.
They offer up a strawberry, avo and cream cheese California roll as well as a spicy biltong and cucumber variant, you’ll also find sweet piquant fashion sandwiches, spicy prawn bean curd and salmon roses tunnels which have to be tasted to be believed.
Vusi might not have opened the first Sushi restaurant in Joburg but his is certainly one of the most original.
The Blackanese restaurant and Vusi are featured in this Hansa TV advert below:
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