Dynamic duos: Toshi and Yasu Kizaki
Dedication to food and each other fostered success
(Editor's note: This is one of ColoradoBiz's “dynamic duos” of Colorado business, who reflect on their working relationships, what brought them together and where they’re going.)
Toshi and Yasu Kizaki
Together, there is nothing you cannot accomplish.
This quote comes from a Japanese story of a famous warlord, Moni Montonari, more than 400 years ago. The sum of the anecdote “explains our relationship well,” says Toshihiro Kizaki.
In 1984, Toshi’s father, Taketo Kizaki, insisted that his eldest brother, Yasuhiro Kizazki, relocate from London to Denver to help Toshi launch his restaurant concept, Sushi Den. At the time, the sushi trend was picking up speed on U.S. soil and Colorado’s population of Japanese-Americans had grown, in part as a result of the 1940s internment camps on the Eastern Plains. The cultural and culinary traditions were sticking.
“In Japanese tradition, the oldest one is given the responsibility to take care of younger ones,” says Toshi, one of four Kizaki brothers. “Yasu was our eldest brother, so we listened to him. As children as young as 4 or 5 years old, we had to cook our own meals since our parents had a farm and they worked late in the fields.”
From that young age, Toshi and Yasu would cook rice, prepare miso soup and serve fresh vegetables from the gardens that surrounded
their home in the small, southern Japanese village.
“We didn’t care about flavor. We were just kids,” Yasu recalls.
When it came time to build Sushi Den, however, the brothers’ meticulous care was palpable. Today, Den Corner, encompassing three independent eateries – Sushi Den, Izakaya Den and OTOTO – attracts throngs of customers who linger nightly on the sidewalk and cluster in the angular doorway at the corner of South Pearl Street and East Florida Avenue.
Predawn visits to the local fish market set the pace for the precision and reverence of culture that shapes every square inch of their restaurants, and every bite that is served. The technical and traditional peculiarities of the ingredients, sources and experience cultivated are unmatched, as Yasu and Toshi have quietly, but competitively gone after their culinary competition.
WHAT MAKES THE RELATIONSHIP WORK?
“I put my brother’s needs first,” says Yasu, of his decision to move to Colorado and his title – vice president – in their umbrella business Hiro & Company Inc. “I was pounded with that idea since I was born … If you don’t have hierarchy in a relationship, when you get into conflicts, there is no way to figure it out.” Toshi, indeed, is president of the business.
“It is important to have someone you trust completely to share important decisions,” Toshi, age 60 says. Yasu, 62, often translates for his younger brother, calling him an “introvert.”
WHAT MAKES THE BUSINESS WORK?
When asked about their success, Yasu retreats, putting measured attention on others – Toshi, his staff, their chefs, managers, dishwashers and even customers, expressing deep gratitude. Then, unruffled he says, “With us, hard work, heritage and family … that’s why we have been able to stay in business for so long.”
“Eating is sensational, but I am also trying to give mental stimulation through education,” Yasu says of the duo’s mission to introduce Japanese culture to Denver through food.