Omakase: Cupid Leung’s JourneyWritten by Hayden L
Starting out as a restroom cleaner at the age of 15, Cupid Leung has trained as a sushi chef for over 11 years. In 2015, Cupid established Sushi Man through his dedication and love for sushi, collecting numerous awards and praise since.
After being compelled to find a job due to family financial difficulties, Cupid Leung, owner of Sushi Man embarked on his decade-long journey of training to become a sushi chef. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Sai Ying Pun, Cupid’s childhood years saw no real difficulties until his parents declared a financial crisis and he was forced to find another source of income to support his family.
Cupid’s first interaction with sushi was at a convenience store below his house. “Back then, sushi was simple. It had a variety of fillings inside but it was unappetizing so I never really ate sushi when I was young because of this first experience,” as Cupid explains his childhood memories. He shunned it off until he became an apprentice at a notably famous sushi restaurant during the 90s. However, Cupid was prohibited from being anywhere near the sushi, let alone touch it. Instead, he began his training as a restroom cleaner and held this position for 3 grueling years until he was permitted to observe the preparation of sushi from a distance. “The Head Chef won’t let you touch food unless you are fluent with the procedure,” explains Cupid. By studying how chefs prepared the constituents of sushi, Cupid was given more responsibility and was eventually allowed to work in the kitchen.
From cleaning the restroom on day one to preparing sushi 3 years later, Cupid shares that this period was the most difficult yet memorable moment during his initial training years. He remembers telling himself, “I don’t feel like I should be doing these kind of tasks. I want to learn as much as I can about sushi in the shortest possible time so I can open my own restaurant.” At the age of 20, Cupid confidently opened his first sushi restaurant in Hong Kong only to find that things quickly went sour, causing business to go downhill until it finally closed down soon after.
A state of depression plagued Cupid, sending him into a spiral of alcoholism and failure however he didn’t give up, not even once – “If I had thought of giving up at any time, then I believe that there wouldn’t be a single Sushi Man in the world.” Cupid believed that if he were ever to give up his passion then the years he had spent as a trainee would have been wasted and he would have failed himself. When it comes to goals, he must see it through to the very end – failure is not an option.
In 2015, Cupid launched his second restaurant under the name of Sushi Man. Specialising in the innovative Omakase arrangement, the restaurant has one particular goal in mind – to make their guests, friends. Cupid explains, “My guests are my friends. When they come to eat for the first time, I treat them like a friend.” Within a year of opening, Sushi Man was awarded the Best Japanese Restaurant (2016, 2017) by OpenRice and has since continued to immerse their guests in the intimate and trust-driven experience of Omakase. Cupid explains that he sources his fish from the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo and it is delivered to the stores every day at around 4 pm. “The cost is a challenge, but this is how we maintain quality.” he shares.
When asked the most critical factor when it comes to the dining experience, Cupid expresses, “The single most important thing when talking about dining experience is happiness. As long as my guests are happy, that is all that matters.” Along with this, Cupid strives to pursue his commitment to making sushi until he is physically unable to, taking inspiration from the most famous sushi master in the world as of now, Jiro Ono.
With rent being expensive and expectations of food soaring considerably high, Cupid decided to open Sushi Man in the New Territories rather than basing himself in Kowloon or on Hong Kong Island. This was due to the New Territories having cheaper rent along with the most significant population in all of Hong Kong. Cupid reveals, “When I opened Sushi Man, we were the only fine sushi restaurant in the New Territories so in terms of quality, we had no competitors.”
In terms of Hong Kong’s startup environment, Cupid highlights that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to open a restaurant as opposed to 20 years ago. With Hong Kong being an international hub for a variety of different foods, the standard of quality is high which makes it difficult for new restaurants to compete with. A second important point is the rent which is extremely high. Both of these factors play a heavy role on how hard it has become to start up a new restaurant in Hong Kong.
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