Meet Your Merchant: Old friendship leads to new venture |

Meet Your Merchant: Old friendship leads to new venture

Brian Duggan/Nevada AppealThe staff at Kim Lee's Sushi Oyster Bar and Japanese Restaurant. From left, Steve Saswa, Mario Martinez, Mark Isaac, owner Tony Pastini, Nichole Haverkamp and Adela Roa.

Many of the employees who work at Tony Pastini’s Kim Lee’s Sushi Oyster Bar and Japanese Restaurant in Carson City have been there for years.

One of his sushi chefs, Steve Saswa, has been with Pastini since he opened his first sushi bar in Reno in 1988.

“I love my crew, my crew loves working here,” said Pastini, 67, before eating lunch at his restaurant in downtown Carson City. “I have the best team in the world in this industry. Faithful, honest, hardworking people.”

Pastini’s venture into sushi bars started with the help of one friend who eventually turned into a business partner.

While stationed in Japan in the early 1960s as an 18-year-old Marine, Pastini met Esikai Sato, an 11-year-old boy who was training to become a sushi chef. After a few overseas tours to Japan and returning to the same sushi restaurant, Pastini and Sato became friends.

“I ate at his restaurant probably three or four times,” he said. “I came back for my second leave and I went there and he had come up from the back cutting fish for the sushi chefs to the front where he was actually learning.”

When Pastini returned to the United States, he and Sato corresponded by letter for years until 1986 when Sato told Pastini that he had gotten a visa to come to work for his uncle in California. He suggested to Pastini that they open a sushi bar in Reno.

“I said it’s not going to make it here, nobody eats sushi,” Pastini said. “So I took a chance.”

They opened their sushi bar in June 1988. The first three years they struggled, Pastini said, but business eventually improved. They opened their location in Carson City in 1991. Sato returned to Japan in 1998 to care for family.

Today, Pastini runs two sushi restaurants in Carson City and Gardnerville (his current location in Carson City opened in 2008). He also has a deli in Minden.

He attributes the longevity of his business to using Japanese-made ingredients such as rose rice, soy paper and ginger.

“We’re still cooking in the old-fashioned pots,” he said.

Many items on their menu are named after people, such Pastini’s ex-wife, the namesake of his restaurant, chefs and customers.

“None of these rolls existed in Japan,” Pastini said. “This is all stuff that we developed over the years.”