The story of Kuze Fuku & Sons
It all began with a merchant named Fukumatsu Kuze. Fukumatsu was born and raised in a wholesale store outside of Tokyo in the first decade of the 20th century when the country began seeing an explosion in exports of Japanese products around the world.
Fukumatsu opened a shop named “Kuze Shoten” in the east end of Tokyo's Ikebukuro area in 1954. Aided by Fukumatsu’s mother, who was the only daughter from a long-established family-run soy sauce business, Fukumatsu’s new shop was among the pioneers in the making and selling of western seasonings such as sauces and ketchup. In the aftermath of World War II, his shop expanded into the general food wholesale business. Fukumatsu soon became a father to three boys and a girl.
A Young Man's Inspiration
The modern continuation of Fukumatsu's efforts was the dream of Fukumatsu's son, Ryozo, born in 1950. In his childhood, Ryozo helped out with the operation of his father’s business. As an adult, he became an avid lover of adventure sports such as skiing and developed an interest in overseas travel. With his father's blessing, Ryozo embarked on a solo trip around the US and Europe. Traveling by Greyhound bus from place to place, Ryozo developed a deep appreciation for the rich landscapes and industry he saw in the US. He saw family restaurants, convenience stores and other businesses that had not existed in Japan at the time, and wrote to his father to tell of the things he saw during his travels. Fukumatsu cherished Ryozo's letters for the rest of his life.
After completing his college education, Ryozo worked at his father's business, developing his own unique business channels and discovering new ways to sell products. With skiing on the rise as a popular sport among younger generations, Ryozo saw the opportunities that came with the new trend. He successfully sold products from his father's business to resort hotels and inns in the Nagano area, a line of work that often took him to the clean, mountain air of the countryside. Ryozo soon wanted to open a ski lodge of his own in the mountains of Nagano. Though his father was at first skeptical and warned Ryozo of the amount of hard work that comes with running a ski lodge, Ryozo was determined to follow this dream, and wrote up a detailed financial plan for his endeavor.
Ryozo Meets Mayumi
At the age of 25, Ryozo finally opened his ski lodge, named Pension KUZE, in the Madarao Kogen area of Northern Nagano Prefecture. Two days after opening his lodge, he met his wife-to-be, Mayumi, who stayed at the lodge as a guest. After marrying, Ryozo and Mayumi ran their business together, and developed several noteworthy events and activities in their community, such as a ski racing event, and a boat and tennis school. Several times their efforts attracted the attention of popular magazine writers, who often came out to interview them.
In 1977, Mayumi gave birth to their first son, Ryota, and a year later to a second son, Naoki. Raising two kids while running the lodge proved to be a daunting task, especially for Mayumi, who lamented that it was impossible to properly care for the kids when they were ill, due to the constant demands of guests staying at the lodge. After much discussion, Ryozo and Mayumi decided to quit the hotel business, once they had established an alternative means of income. Ryozo set out trying to find their way out of the problem.
A new business begins
It was by chance at this time that Mayumi came across a local farmer selling some mis-shaped apples for a inexpensive price. Buying up the apples, she made them into an apple jam that was a big hit with guests at the lodge, and Ryozo could suddenly see the potential that lay ahead. At first selling jam to guests at the lodge, Ryozo soon expanded to include other lodges and hotels in the area. He eventually outsourced production to a local factory and his new jam business, named Madarao Farm, achieved enough success for Ryozo and Mayumi to finally sell the lodge.
In 1984, with the lodge sold and a somewhat easier work schedule ahead, Ryozo and Mayumi were finally able to take a very belated honeymoon to the Normandy region of France. There they saw a charming country lifestyle among apple orchards and cow pastures, and they learned of the region's specialty apple brandy, Calvados. Ryozo and Mayumi later went to the Napa Valley in California, where they were impressed by the many boutique wineries scattered around the valley.
Returning to Japan, Ryozo wanted to recreate the setting, feeling and experiences that he saw in his travels, and to welcome visitors to share in the past time. He and Mayumi began searching for a location to build a factory, but everywhere they went they were shown industrial areas already crowded with factory buildings and industry. Ryozo wanted a pastoral setting, and it was finally the chief of Samizu Village (today the Town of Iizuna) who allowed Ryozo to build in such a location. He was shown a small hill without any roads on it, and Ryozo knew he had found the perfect spot.
A Difficult Time
Ryozo's new jam factory opened in 1988, followed by an adjacent restaurant one year later, and a winery in 1990. Ryozo was able to create the illusion of Normandy on a hilltop in Nagano. He named the company, St.Cousair Co., Ltd. But the bubble economy of the time led all the customers away to the cities. Ryozo found himself struggling to pay back his loans to the bank,and was pressured to give up the winery and restaurant, but he insisted on continuing.
Ryozo's overwork and constant absence from family led his son Ryota to decide not to work in the family business, choosing instead to enter the workforce as a system engineer in some other line of manufacturing. Ryota's brother, Naoki, having just finished high school, found himself with the opportunity to attend college abroad and jumped at the chance, traveling to the US and attending UC Davis, where he learned viticulture and enology (winemaking).
During Naoki's years as a student in the US, he worked in a sushi bar and in the vineyards of wineries in the Napa Valley, where he labored side by side with other Japanese, Mexicans and Americans. Naoki was impressed by the work ethic and spirit of those working around him. Naoki dreamed that someday he would develop his family business to U.S.A and work with people from all over the world.
Returning to Japan
On returning to Japan in 2004, Naoki began working with his father at St.Cousair, contributing as a store manager, helping with the opening of new stores, and acquiring imported raw materials for the business. Ryozo and Naoki eventually convinced Ryota to join the company too, and together they set out to reform the company's manufacturing practices and began building a relationship of trust with financial institutions.
Marriage, China & Kuze Fuku
In 2009, Naoki married a Vietnamese-American woman, Minh Thu, whom he had met during his college years. Together they started a new food retail branch of St.Cousair in China, but the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami resulted in a ban of food imports from Japan to China. Naoki returned to Japan in 2012, and a year later, they started a new brand concept for the company. In a business plan that would be nicknamed "The Japanese Gourmet Store," the new brand, Kuze Fuku & Co. was born. Named for Ryozo's father, Fukumatsu, the first Kuze Fuku & Co. store opened in 2013.
The new Kuze Fuku brand was a matter of pride for Ryozo and his family, as the store brought together to one location a number of gourmet culinary products made by regional producers in the traditional ways and methods passed down over generations. The Kuze Fuku brand became immensely popular and rapid development of store locations all across Japan followed. Naoki found himself constantly away from his wife and daughter due to the heavy workload that came with the success of the Kuze Fuku & Co. brand. This led his wife to leave him, taking their daughter back to the US, and prompting Naoki to carefully re-examine his priorities.
At the same time Naoki remembered his dream to develop his family business in the US someday, and to work with people from all over the world. Naoki asked his wife for a second chance and soon approached his father and brother about the idea of developing business in the US. They agreed, and in 2015, Naoki, through his own will and passion, crossed the Pacific Ocean to Oregon to develop his own family business in the United States. There he was fascinated by its cutting-edge food culture, with food for the dining table made from high quality natural, simple and organic ingredients from local farmers. In 2017, after much effort and business dealings, St.Cousair was able to acquire a food production facility in Newberg, Oregon, naming the new US affiliate St.Cousair, Inc. The new facility now develops products inspired by the unique culture of Portland, Oregon and its local ingredients, with the backbone of Japanese food culture.
This journey brings a new US brand name, Kuze Fuku & Sons to customers in North America and someday to the rest of the world.