Steve Jobs' Chef

The Sushi chef that made Steve Jobs Wait for 30 min.

photo coutesy of Hitoshi Hokamura: click to reveal his other photos taken in Kaygetsu

Despite my extensive research about Steve Jobs' affection to Japan, I am not sure when he began to like sushi.
But Jay Elliot, one of Steve's mentors, told me that Steve already liked Sushi when they visited Japan together back in 1983.

While Steve's first sushi chef remain as a mystery, in Japan, three of his top sushi chefs are very well known.
Below is the story of Toshio Sakuma, the ex-owner and chef of a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner restaurant 'Kaygetsu (桂月).'
This is where Apple Board often held their dinner. And this is where Steve Jobs made a surprise birthday party for his wife.
'Kaygetsu' is the place Steve Jobs loved the most and Toshio, perhaps, is the chef Steve had known the longest.

You might have heard Steve Jobs was very impatient. But if it were for Toshio's sushi, Steve could wait for 30 minutes.
Steve visited this place almost weekly. While he was very sick in 2011, he sent Mona Simpson, his biological sister, to pick up Japanese sweets.

Recently, a book about Toshio Sakuma, 'Steve Jobs' Chef' was published here in Japan; it provided a very interesting perspective to the history of Silicon Valley. After all, it was not just Steve Jobs who loved this restaurant.

The story of Toshio making Steve Jobs wait became so famous after a notice put beside the entrance of 'Toshi's Sushiya,' Toshio's second restaurant (preceding 'Kaygetsu').

The notice was titled 'Please wait to be seated.' The latter half of it was an FAQ, and item 2 there looked like this:

2. Q) If Steve Jobs came in without reservation, does he have to wait?
A) Yes, for the first few times he came in without reservations, he signed in on the waiting list and waited about 30 minutes. Now he calls ahead to make reservations. Ask him.

The actual sushi served at Kaygetsu (courtesy of H. Hokamura)

A Quarter Century Relationship

Steve had been eating Toshio's sushi since 1987 or 1988. And Toshio's restaurant, 'Kaygetsu' was one of the last restaurants he had eaten.

'Toro', 'Salmon' and 'Hamachi' were Steve's favorites.
'Five toros and five Hamachis' were his regular order.

On his last visit to Kaygetsu, he ate 'Negi-toro' and 'shrimp tempura.' Toshio also prepared 'Pumpkin tempura' but Steve wasn't in a condition to finish it.

Steve loved the place so much and often visited there alone for lunch (as spotted in picture above by Hitoshi Hokamura of Evernote).
Seat No.1 at the counter (shown above) was his favorite seat and even when he visited without reservation, he seemed upset when that seat was taken.

He often brought Jonathan Ive or his wife, Laurene Powell.
Steve held a surprise birthday party for Laurene back in 2000 at 'Toshi's Sushiya' with just the two of them. And another one at 'Kaygetsu,' in 2004 with 25 of his best friends including Larry Ellison.

Steve couldn't be away from Toshio's taste that he once sent his house cook to Kaygetsu, so he can learn how to cook better Chazuke and Spinach Goma-ae.

The Restaurant for Apple's Board Dinner

Steve shared his meal not just with friends and families.

Apple's board has decided to have their regular board dinner at 'Kaygetsu' after Fall, 2006; that means Al Gore, Bill Campbell, Mickey Drexler, Arthur D. Levinson and Eric Schmidt all gathered in Toshio's not-so-big Japanese restaurant.

Steve visited 'Kaygetsu' after almost every major product launch.
One exception was the iPhone launch and he missed it because Toshio was having a vacation.
But when Apple finally shipped the original iPhone in June of 2007, Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive visited 'Kaygetsu' just to show Toshio how it works.

Now Served in Apple's HQ

Toshio Sakuma might have had a special karma with Steve Jobs.

He worked in Silicon Valley for 26 years running three Japanese restaurants.
By 2010, Toshio started to look for a change. 'Kaygetsu' has become too famous in Silicon Valley; Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn and Douglas Leone of Sequoia Capital were among the other regulars there.
Toshio wanted to keep the quality of service high but he was almost 60 years old.
Then there was Lehman Shock and in March 2011, Tohoku earthquake hit Japan and Toshio's birthplace, Fukushima was in big trouble.
But one day, Steve Jobs visited Kaygetsu for lunch bravely without reservation.
He was taking a medical leave from Apple's day-to-day operation but he was well enough to make the visit to Kaygetsu.
Steve Jobs knew Toshio had been trying to sell Kaygetsu and told him that he had a 'crazy idea.'
That idea was to hire Toshio as a chef for Apple's own cafeteria.
Toshio accepted it.

October 7th, 2011 was officially the last day for Kaygetsu.
But as a token of gratitude to his regular customers, Toshio has decided to make the last four days (i.e. October 4th to 7th) as 'special days' and take reservation from regular customers only.

Jonathan Ive's secretary called Kaygetsu and made a reservation for October 6th, 2011.
Jonathan's secretary told Toshio that he will bring a special guest with him.
Toshio thought that guest would be Steve Jobs.
But the night before the reservation, Toshio heard a very sad news: the passing of Steve Jobs.
On October 6th, Toshio receives an e-mail from Jonathan's secretary canceling the reservation. And Toshio replied it in sorrow.

That very week Toshio had to say goodbye to two of his best memories: Kaygetsu and Steve Jobs.

But thanks to that crazy ideas by Steve Jobs earlier that year; today, if you go to Caffè Macs (i.e. Apple's cafeteria), you can enjoy the sushi, Steve Jobs loved for quarter century.

The Departures of Kaygetsu and Steve Jobs

This article is based on this book published Fall/2013 in Japan

All this and so much more are revealed in the book called 'Jobs' Chef' by Nikkei BP published last fall only here in Japan (foreword by Hitoshi Hokamura).

Kaygetsu was not the only Sushi place Steve Jobs loved.
There is another Sushi restaurant Steve Jobs loved in Palo Alto called 'Jinsho' a much bigger restaurant where Steve held a farewell party with his dear friends.
Another one is in Kyoto, and is called 'Sushi Iwa.' Steve told Masayoshi Son of Softbank that he had the best meal in his life there.
But perhaps, I can talk about them on a separate blog post.

More stories about Steve Jobs and Japan

This is episode 5 of my "tales of Steve Jobs & Japan."
You will find my older posts here:

  1. Mr.Floppy disk
  2. casual friendship with Sony: (How Steve Jobs Wanted to Put Mac OS on every VAIO)
  3. Yukio Shakunaga, Steve Jobs' Favorite Porcelain Artist
  4. Woodcut by Goyo Hashiguchi on the face of original Mac

External Links:

- LinkedIn profile for Hitoshi Hokamura:
(Thank you for proof-reading and contacting Mrs. Sakuma for the sushi photo)!
- Kaygetsu on Yelp
- Caffè Macs on Yelp

The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation
The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New GenerationJay Elliot William L. Simon

Vanguard Press 2011-03-08

See details at Amazon
by G-Tools

The original book in Japanese:
ジョブズの料理人 寿司職人、スティーブ・ジョブズとシリコンバレーとの26年
ジョブズの料理人 寿司職人、スティーブ・ジョブズとシリコンバレーとの26年日経BP社出版局(編集) 佐久間俊雄(取材協力) Author: Nikkei BP Editorial

日経BP社 2013-12-05

by G-Tools

投稿者名 Nobuyuki Hayashi 林信行 投稿日時 2014年05月09日 | Permalink

The tales of Steve Jobs & Japan #03: Yukio Shakunaga, Steve Jobs' Favorite Porcelain Artist

It is well-known that Steve Jobs is a Japanophile.
It is also well-known that Steve Jobs admired great artists and craftsmen.

Among the many artists he loved was Yukio Shakunaga, a porcelain artist based in Toyama prefecture, Japan.
Jobs found the work of Shakunaga while he was having a vacation in Kyoto.

Shakunaga's atelier is in Toyama prefecture, 330Km (or 200 mi) away from Kyoto but he was having a week long exhibition in a gallery in Kyoto.
"Etchu Seto-yaki" is the kind of porcelain Shakunaga makes; Etchu is the old name of Toyama prefecture and "Seto-yaki" is the kind of porcelain he makes.

Jobs just walked in the exhibition with his wife, Laurene Powell; he liked Shakunaga's work so much and bought several Japanese tea cups and flower vases. More over, he visited the exhibition three times during the one-week exhibition.

It was still in mid-'90s. Steve Jobs still worked for NeXT, Inc. and Shakunaga had no idea who Steve Jobs was but was impressed by two things: Jobs' searching eyes and deep interest into his works.

After Steve Jobs has passed, Shakunaga's daughter, Yo Shakunaga, has posted an anecdote by an author, Shizuka Kanaki:

Yo's blog: Steve Jobs and Etchu Seto-yaki

According to that story, Shakunaga's niece was there to help the exhibition and she was the only person who recognized Steve Jobs.
She was explaining to Shakunaga that "having Steve Jobs visit the exhibition is like having John Lennon purchase a tea cup there. And uncle, you've even talked with Steve Jobs for so long. That is so amazing!"

According to that blog post, sometime, speaking and hearing didn't work for Jobs and Shakunaga, so they relied on pens and papers. But Jobs kept asking so many questions.
And most of Jobs' questions were about the clay used in Shakunaga's work.

Shakunaga explained to Jobs that he used "Hakudo (White Clay)." Jobs was so curious about this "White Clay" that he almost visited Toyama. But then, he reallized it will take three hours just to get there and gave up.
Although most porcelain artists buys clay, Shakunaga starts his work by digging his own clay. Kanaki believes that sort of craftsmanship may have impressed Steve Jobs.
And Jobs' strong interest impressed Shakunaga.

The correspondence between the two continued even after the exhibition.

投稿者名 Nobuyuki Hayashi 林信行 投稿日時 2014年02月11日 | Permalink

The tales of Steve Jobs & Japan #02: casual friendship with Sony

It is well-known that Steve Jobs is a Japanophile.
It is also well-known that Steve Jobs was a big fan of Sony.

In the book, "Insanely Simple" by Ken Segall, the godfather of "iMac" disclosed how Steve Jobs wanted to name that product "MacMan" mimicking "Walkman."

Akio Morita, the co-founder of Sony was not featured in the 'Think different.' ad campaign but he has always been a hero for Steve Jobs.
I remember Jobs giving condolence on his passing.

Steve Jobs giving condole sense to Morita at iMac DV introduction/Click to watch video

Steve Jobs and Akio Morita

While Jobs adored Morita, Morita also adored Steve Jobs.
"There are actually two American youngsters Morita was particularly fond of and took good care of: One was Michael Jackson, and the other was Steve Jobs" recalls Kunitake Ando, the ex-president of Sony, Inc. According to him, Morita, often invited them to Sony and gave them personal tours.

Because of this close relationship between Jobs and Morita, Apple and Sony was in a special relationship all along the way. The two companies had been very close even during Steve Jobs' absence. The two companies have worked closely on some projects. For example, Apple's QuickTime team had helped Sony develop their ATRAC audio file format. And ex-QuickTime architect directed some of Sony's Cybershot digital camera projects.

The relationship between Apple and Sony became even stronger when Steve Jobs returned to Apple and it continued on, perhaps, until iPod became such a huge success and Howard Stringer took control of SONY.

Mac-compatible VAIO

投稿者名 Nobuyuki Hayashi 林信行 投稿日時 2014年02月05日 | Permalink

The tales of Steve Jobs & Japan #01: Mr.Floppy disk

It is well-known that Steve Jobs was a Zen Buddhist and a Japanophile.
Although he was a well-known vegetarian, Sushi always had been the exception.
According to a tweet by Masayoshi Son, the head of SoftBank groups, the best meal Steve Jobs had in his life was a Sushi dinner in Kyoto.

Despite the massive number of books about Steve Jobs published in English, there are still many tales of him which isn't known to the western world.

I once wrote some of them on
"Steve Jobs and Japan."

But here on my blog, I would like to give a deeper cut into some of those stories.

First in the series of all, I would like to write the tale of Mr. Floppy disk: the friendshop between Steve Jobs and Yasuyuki Hirose, an ex-engineer of floppy disk drive at ALPS Electronics.

I interviewed him for a book I supervised (+I also have written 70% of the articles on it).
The book is called "The Legacy of Steve Jobs" and it is only available in Japanese:

スティーブ・ジョブズは何を遺したのか (日経BPパソコンベストムック)

Steve & Yasu

Hirose brought a picture of him with Steve Jobs. On the back of the picture, it reads "At Rod Holts' house. June, 1977." Hirose was 32 years-old when 24 years-old Steve Jobs approached him and asked to make a floppy disk drive for Apple II.
"She is not in the picture, but Barbara Jasinski was sitting right next to me. At the time, Steve was dating her." recalls Hirose.
All Apple executive team called him "Yasu" and were so warm and friendly to him. They often invited him to home party, etc. And the picture Hirose brought was taken during on of those ocasions. Rod Holt once invited Hirose to his Yacht named "Apple I" and served a beer named after himself.

Hirose says "many people say Steve Jobs is a short-tempered charisma, but he was always kind and even shy to me." Hirose once asked Jobs, if he could give a lecture to factory workers at ALPS and Jobs warmly accepted it.
One of the factory workers asked Jobs what the 'fifth generation computer' is.
'Fifth-generation computer' was an initiative by Japanese government to create Japan-made super computers.
Steve Jobs explained "the fifth generation computers are like super-cars while personal computers are like bicycle."
Jobs also frankly asked many questions to ALPS employees. He was especially interested in their automated factory.
"Steve was particularly interested in manufacturing processes. In 1983, he made a tour of automated factory in Furukawa and asked many questions. Later, he invited me to his new factory in Fremont, California; it was then, that I realized what Steve had always wanted to do." recalls Hirose.

投稿者名 Nobuyuki Hayashi 林信行 投稿日時 2014年02月03日 | Permalink