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API Month: Toshi brings smiles, sushi to FLA Live Arena

by Jameson Olive @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

API Month: Toshi Sekita

API Month: Toshi Sekita

In celebration of API Month, the Panthers sat down with Toshi Sekita, owner of Kuome Japanese Restaurant in Sunrise

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As part of Hockey is For Everyone, the Panthers are joining the NHL and NHLPA in celebrating Asian & Pacific Islander Heritage Month throughout May by shining a well-deserved spotlight on some incredible people from the API community making a positive impact on the organization.

In the first installment of this series, we highlight sushi chef extraordinaire Toshi Sekita.

Toshi Sekita seems to have a smile permanently attached to his face.

As the owner of Kuome Japanese Restaurant in Sunrise, the charismatic chef has been supplying the Panthers with sushi for the last two seasons. From Lounge 954 to suites, his decorative sushi boats have become a staple of the dining experience at FLA Live Arena.

"Beyond description," Sekita said when asked about what it means to know fans at the arena are enjoying his delicious dishes. "I can't say enough. I know you guys love my sushi, but I know myself that I love making sushi. We love each other. I feel like we're married, a happy wedding."

Not long after making one of his usual sushi deliveries to the arena, Sekita sat down with FloridaPanthers.com to discuss his passion for the Panthers, food and his unique heritage.

FloridaPanthers.com: Where are you from originally?

Sekita: I am from Japan.

FloridaPanthers.com: When you moved to the United States, what were some of the challenges you faced in adapting to a new culture?

Sekita: The language was difficult. In Japan, we learn English three years in high school, three years in middle school, and another two years at university. For a total of eight years we learn English. We only learn grammar and reading, no comprehension. So the first time I came to the United States, I thought I knew English, but I didn't. I didn't understand a lot of the time.

FloridaPanthers.com: How did you overcome that initial language barrier?

Sekita: Every time they'd say something to me, I'd have to ask them to write it down. That way I could understand it. The language barrier is so tough for us. Not only Japanese, but all Asian people feel that way. On the other hand, American people, especially in South Florida, are so welcoming to us. That's why I want to give back that positive energy to all of you.

FloridaPanthers.com: How important is that positive energy?

Sekita: Negative energy is contagious, but on the other hand the positive energy is, too. I want to make it happen more. That way I make more Asian people outgoing and give them more energy, happy people. A lot of people think Asian people, especially Japanese, are shy and quiet. I think it's good for Asian people to become more American in the United States.

FloridaPanthers.com: How did you get started in the sushi business?

Sekita: I studied business at FAU. I learned from the classroom the four P's. The first P is place. The second P is product. The third P is price. The fourth P is promotion. With all of those together, I learned that you could make a business. But I had an idea for another P: passion.

FloridaPanthers.com: How much is passion a part of your business?

Sekita: When I opened my business, I wanted that to be a part of it. The first thing I did was say hello to my customers. Every time they come in, they're greeted with energy and they're smiling. That gives me energy, too. When they leave, I say, "See you tomorrow!" I'm not greedy, I just want to see them one more time. That's passion.

FloridaPanthers.com: Where does that passion for positivity come from?

Sekita: My mom always made us smile not matter what, so that gave me some happiness. My mom gives me the power. I call her almost every day. [During the pandemic], she told me to stay strong. That's why I keep saying stay strong not only to my customers, but also to myself.

FloridaPanthers.com: How did you apply that message to your business?

Sekita: My mom gave me the idea to put "stay strong" on all my boxes. I made thousands of [takeout] boxes over the last two years. They all had that on them.

FloridaPanthers.com: How did you end up working with the Panthers?

Sekita: I started making sushi for the arena right before playoffs last season. I had been waiting 15 years for them to ask me! I have many regular customers [that work at the arena], and a wall of Panthers [photos] at my restaurant. When I started, it was little by little. They gave me some taste testing stuff, and then more and more and more. Now it's 1,000 pieces for Lounge 954 and suites. It's not only myself that makes it, I really appreciate my staff.

FloridaPanthers.com: What's the process like for making that much sushi for a single game?

Sekita: Making sushi takes a couple hours, but the preparation is the whole week, little by little. You order fish, order product. It's the little details.

FloridaPanthers.com: I know a lot of fans enjoy following you on Instagram (@toshisekita) and watching all of the great photos you take during your delivery. How long does it usually take to drop of all those sushi boats at the arena?

Sekita: It should take five minutes, but it usually takes a half an hour because I have to stop and hug so many of the people I see. I love hugging people. It gives me so much energy.

FloridaPanthers.com: Once you're done, how much do you enjoying watching the game?

Sekita: Every time the Panthers win, that energy, I feel it. Even when I'm at the restaurant, I feel it because there's so much energy coming from the arena. Winning, I really love it. I appreciate all Panthers players, the whole organization, that puts so much effort into it. Even though they keep winning, they keep going and going and going. I appreciate that energy.

FloridaPanthers.com: The next time a fan goes to Kuome Japanese Sushi, what should they order?

Sekita: The Toshi roll! It's sweet rolls with eel sauce. It's named after me because I am sweet.

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