The 2004 AWIB Entrepreneurial Leadership Award Winner - Saori Kawano
Founder/President/Chief Executive Officer
Korin Japanese Trading Corp.
Korin Japanese Trading Corp, headquartered in New York City, is the leading provider of fine Japanese chef knives, tableware, utensils and restaurant equipment to homes, restaurants, hotels and the food service industry worldwide. With 2003 revenues of $ 4.7 million and warehouses in Chicago and California, Korin has seen a 30% growth in business over the last 3 years.
Saori immigrated to the U.S. from Japan in 1978 and because of her limited English speaking ability, could only find work as a waitress, and performed traditional Japanese tea ceremonies for a living. With only one supplier of Japanese cutlery in the U.S. but with a growing public awareness of Japanese food, she decided this was an opportunity she should grasp and on her days off, went store to store to sell products she bought for $2,000 and stored in her apartment. In 1983, her doggedness paid off and she was able to sell cutlery and Arita porcelain tableware full time. Over the next decade, she saw tremendous fluctuations in her business and experienced great personal and business travail. As a single mother, she even took her young daughter on sales calls with her. By 1994 her business finally picked up and she relocated to her present location in Tribecca.
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 non-profit organizations, she realized the importance of community and started getting involved. Over the last 3 years, Korin and Saori have blossomed. Saori is now is a board member of the National Minority Business Council, an active member of the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance, Women Chefs & Restaurateurs, The American Culinary Foundation, the International Association of Culinary Professions, the NYS Restaurant Association and more.
Since 2003, Korin, previously selling only wholesale and to chefs, opened to the public and her business is now 5% retail and growing. Korin was recently given a Zagat Market Place rating of 29 (highest), was featured in Gourmet Magazine and the New York Times and now publishes three comprehensive color catalogues of her products. Her rostrum of loyal clients includes, Nobu, the Marriott, the Four Seasons and more. Morimoto, the "Iron Chef" is a regular customer.
Her advice to Asian women entrepreneurs is to keep one's cultural identity and make it our strongest sales point. Chose to do what you really love and you will survive and thrive, even without capital, as long as you have passion and patience.
Saori lives in New York with husband Kazu, 16 year old daughter Mary and two cats she adopted from a shelter.