Founder and president,Korin Japanese Trading Corp.
After two years of teaching at a public junior high school in Japan, Saori Kawano decided to pursue her childhood dream of introducing Japanese tradition and craftsmanship to the world and immigrated to the U.S. in 1978. Because of her limited English speaking ability and she could only find work as a waitress in Japanese restaurant. Food culture in the United States was not what it is today and no one was interested in Japan. Over her time working as a waitress, she collected $2000 in tip to begin her own business.
In 1982, her doggedness paid off and she was able to sell restaurant use traditional Japanese porcelain tableware. Over the next decade, she saw tremendous fluctuations in her business and experienced great personal and business travail. After the Gulf War in 1991, sales dropped dramatically, and she began taking her young daughter on sales calls as a newly single mother. She knew that if she kept things the way they were, she would have to close her company. With the urgency to begin selling to American chefs then open and develop a new market, she thought “What is something all chefs use? Knives!”
Although it was a good idea, at the time it was a storm of returns and refunds. Japanese knives are very delicate and fragile if not used properly. Saori wondered how she could make Americans understand the greatness of Japanese knives, and concluded that having a renowned chef in New York speak for it would be best. She had Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten discuss Japanese knives in Korin’s catalogs. Since the success of this interview, every issue of Korin’s knife catalog has had interviews with top chefs around the world. By 1995 her business finally picked up and she relocated to her present location in Tribeca where things went steadily until the unimaginable happened.
Located in the Frozen Zone, the events of September 11th had a traumatic impact on Korin and her establishment was closed for 3 months. Grateful for all the assistance she got from the government and nonprofit organizations, she realized the importance of community and started getting involved. In 2005, she founded the Gohan Society, a nonprofit organization that embodied her commitment to bridge the culinary community. The Gohan Society serves as a resource center for knowledge of traditional Japanese cuisine and as a catalyst for the expansion of that knowledge in the United States. Since the start, the Gohan Society has provided scholarships to study in renowned traditional Japanese restaurants for American chefs, and bridged these cultures together.
Saori also gives interns from Japan opportunities to work in New York at Korin. She believes that by expanding the young generation’s horizon through working abroad, they will have a better understanding of cultural differences and grow into more worldly adults.
In recent years she has become a big supporter of organizations that support public school students such as Wellness in the Schools, and has become a board member of Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP). Saori hopes that young aspiring chefs will be encouraged by these organizations to set high goals for themselves as it is in this spirit of perseverance where excellence is cultivated. She looks forward to seeing the evolution of a new generation of chefs, who set new standards for culinary greatness.