For sushi lovers in Johannesburg, The Blackanese Sushi and Wine Bar owner, Vusi Kunene, is bringing a tasty dose of African flavour to the Japanese art. From humble beginnings in rural Limpopo, Vusi has defied the odds, embraced his love for sushi and hospitality and opened a beautiful restaurant situated in the Maboneng Precinct at Arts on Main. The Afropolitan caught up with Vusi for a chat.
What is your background?
I am a 28-year-old, Mpumalanga born, Johannesburg raised, father of one and a proud South African. I was raised by a single mother, who sadly passed on when I was teenager.
For sushi lovers in Johannesburg, The Blackanese Sushi and Wine Bar owner, Vusi Kunene, is bringing a tasty dose of African flavour to the Japanese art.
What circumstances led to you not completing your studies?
When my mother passed away, I was left in the custody of my grandmother. As she was the only breadwinner in our family, there was not a lot of money coming in,which made it difficult for me to carry on with school. I was forced to abandon my studies and look for employment.
You first worked as a security guard. Tell us about your experience.
I actually did my fair share of jobs as a security guard! These were very interesting times for me because I gathered so much experience and a sense of responsibility. I have to admit it though, it was one of the hardest jobs I ever had to do but I gave it my all and did the job well. But deep down I knew it was just a stepping-stone to better things – all I had to do was be patient.
When did you discover your love for sushi?
After my time as a security guard I looked for employment as a waiter and worked at various sushi restaurants in Cape Town. It was then that I discovered my passion for sushi after being in the industry for almost five years.
What excites you about the art of sushi making?
The passion and art behind sushi making is what makes me tick! There is an intense culture behind the product and a certain lifestyle linked to it too.
When you decided to open The Blackanese, what was the reaction of your family and friends?
When I established The Blackanese there was a lot of mixed feelings from friends and family as it’s not the norm when it comes to eateries. But all that changed when the brand was well received in the market.
How did you manage to finance your business venture?
The business venture was funded through the events and functions we did at the time. Some weekends my partner and I held fish-braais and saved the money we made. I never actually raised enough money to fully finance the venture but we raised the money as we went along to see it through.
What lessons did you learn during the time you were saving for your restaurant?
I have learnt that it’s not easy to go into business without financial backing, but while it’s hard, it’s not impossible. It only takes a great man with a great idea, then comes the financial part of things.
What drives your passion and determination?
Fear! I say fear because I am always afraid of not making it, so I always keep my eye on the finish line.
Tell us about your partnership with The Awethu Project.
The Awethu Project is an organisation that is dedicated to producing one thousand entrepreneurs from under-resourced communities with the talent, skills, and resources to lead South Africa to prosperity. The Blackanese and Awethu have been in partnership for a few months now and the most amazing thing is we easily found our common ground, as we are both very passionate about entrepreneurship. Awethu has introduced some exciting ways of running a business and exposed us a different world of business.
From opening your restaurant to now, describe your journey.
While it hasn’t been easy, it has been an amazing journey in so many ways. Our love and passion for the business is the one thing that has kept us going through the challenges and with big brother on board (Awethu) things should get better with their guidance.
What do you like to do in your spare time – if you have any?
I would love to know what it feels like to have spare time! When I do get time off, (because I believe it’s crucial to strike a balance), I love cooking different foods, playing good music and going to food markets.
What’s your next goal?
My next goal is to see this branch growing and then we will think of up scaling The Blackanese concept.
Any words of wisdom for young chefs looking to make it in the industry?
As an employee, if you don’t respect your job or work as if it’s your own, the day you get your own business you will never respect it. You have to do what you need to do, not for money and money alone, but for the love and passion of it.