HIRO ISHIKAWA - EXECUTIVE CHEF & MANAGING PARTNER
Japanese cuisine has become extremely popular on Long Island in recent years. The history and reason for its rise to prominence may be traced back to one gregarious and innovative individual, Hiro Ishikawa – Restaurateur, Seafood Importer and Innovator.
Ishikawa immigrated to the United States from Japan in the early 1970s and immediately gravitated towards the restaurant industry simply because he enjoyed being with people, sharing his food and demonstrating his food preparation. In 1976, Ishikawa took over Kamehachi in New York City, where he had been working, and became a restaurant entrepreneur.
One year later, he moved to Rockville Centre, Long Island where he envisioned bringing sushi to suburbanites. At this time, most people outside of Manhattan had little or no experience with Japanese cuisine, particularly sushi. Ishikawa determined there was a need for it in the market. In 1979, he opened Rockville Centre’s Taiko, Long Island’s first Japanese restaurant with a dedicated sushi bar. His biggest challenge was appealing to locals who were reluctant to try this new and exotic cuisine, which led to many slow nights. As a result, Ishikawa and his wife went so far as to live at the restaurant to help make ends meet.
His hard work and determination didn’t go unnoticed. Taiko yielded a favorable two-star review from The New York Times. The major media outlet also featured Taiko in an article presenting the new sushi trend to Americans. Ishikawa was quoted saying, “Once they try it, they become crazy about it.” He was right. Ishikawa’s restaurant was now on the map and the interest in sushi exploded. Taiko went from a few customers each night to a packed house every day for lunch and dinner.
However, there was more to Taiko than the sushi. The centerpiece of the operation was the sushi bar manned by Ishikawa himself. The friendly and entertaining “sushi bar tender” made an impression on people that carries on today. He built a strong following and diners flocked to his establishment to enjoy his company and high-quality dishes.
Aware of his diners’ desire to try and relish different types of fish, Ishikawa began to experiment. He created “Jake,” a mixture of chopped crabmeat and shrimp that is now commonly used in rolls across the country. Ishikawa incorporated eel into sushi for the first time and invented his “Black Dragon” that pairs “Jake” with eel and avocado. He made history and became a trendsetter when these two rolls became popular nearly 20 years ago gaining widespread attention on menus from coast to coast.
Many restaurant staffers and chefs that trained and worked under Ishikawa moved on to prestigious positions at well-known Japanese eateries such as New York’s famed Nobu and Long Island’s popular Kodabuki. These chefs also embraced Ishikawa’s style of rice preparation, an important part of sushi-making expertise, and have passed on what they have learned from him to others.
Ishikawa’s vision of serving sushi outside the city eventually reached Hunter Mountain Ski Resort, the Catskills’ premier winter destination in upstate New York, when he introduced this cuisine to weekend skiers. This position further helped spread the popularity of sushi across the Northeast.
With a keen eye for fine fish and the goal to find new ways to introduce sushi to more people, Ishikawa founded his seafood distributing company in 1980. Today, Ishikawa Seafood provides the highest-quality sushi-grade fish to the finest sushi and Japanese dining rooms across the region. If you enjoy fine sushi at a Long Island restaurant, it is more than likely that Ishikawa and his team selected that particular fish. In addition, Ishikawa added Japanese grocer to his resume with the launch of Fujiyama Oriental Foods, a popular Rockville Centre store in the mid-1980s.
In 2003, Ishikawa and his partner, Peter Faccibene acquired Shiro of Japan, the region’s premier Japanese Hibachi steakhouse and sushi restaurant where he continues his 30-year passion of educating people. This is especially evident when Ishikawa opens his restaurants and turns his kitchen into a classroom for young, local students of neighboring schools. A true pioneer of New York’s sushi craze, Ishikawa has brought his style and innovation to Shiro of Japan, which continues to be one of Long Island’s most popular dining destinations.