Jon is the owner and founder of JBROIDA a company focussed on fine japanese cutlery and tools for cooks alike . His company is an internet based shop Japaneseknifeimports.com , specializes in introducing chefs to some of the finest blades from japan along with an ever evolving array of sharpening stones and tools .
I have been a collector of fine Japanese cutlery for a few years .. My passion for useful art was only fuelled from a search of better tools ,more precision and finer cuts . I have met Jon through the internet and he has since become the purveyor of choice when it comes to Japanese knifes. I avoid recommending or endorsing products unless i have used them myself extensively enough that i could undoubtedly make a recommendation. This is certainly the case here; John has guided me through my last purchase and showed me a few more ways of how customer service can become more personable as while objective unbiased and tailored to individual needs. I have done this Q&A with Jon long time ago and i have meant to post it for some time but heavy work load has not made it possible until now .
Q&A with Jon from Japanesechefknifeimports.com
Q: Tell me a little bit more about JBRoida and his life and how you came about selling Japanese knifes and why…..
A: Since i was a little kid i loved food and i enjoyed sharpening .I would eat escargot , try new things all the time.The sharpening part eventually got me in trouble.Growing up applying in colleges i was a bit like every other college student looking into careers like Business, accounting and consulting . I soon realized that i didnt want a desk Job. While on my freshman year i took a job on my break in a country club. I remember i asked the chef if i could come in ,trail for a day and hang around the kitchen.They had the job cut out for me. They never thought i would last, they thought i would come in do a day , quit .
Well i walked in and they had all the little chores lined up for me: Slice 25 lbs of onions ,peel potatoes, peel this much garlic, cut those 2 boxes of tomatoes.Eventually i went back for more;I was hooked into cooking.I tried to get into every Kitchen i could I was there to Learn , work and have fun and thats what i did, i went crazy with it pretty much and loved every minute of it.I was pushing myself to be better and better with every chance , i wanted to be a perfectionist.
Eventually someone offered me a paying Job and i started making money .While in this process it was that i decided to go for Asian Studies which is my major and actually my paper was on Sokuyaki and shobu shobu.Anyway the restaurant chef liked me enough that got me connections to go to Japan .While in Japan i studied a lot of technique and i kept cooking and working gaining a lot of hands on experience and knowledge. I eventually expressed my desire to learn Sharpening , which was not a really “good idea” .The japanese are very specific and particular .They would teach me ,but i had to sharpen a lot of knifes with various people standing over my shoulder giving me direction or yelling at times! But i gained a lot of experience and a lot of refined technique while in Japan.
I returned to the States .Oddly i took a job in an italian restaurant applying all the technique i learned While in Japan , especially fish fabrication and flavors.My chef was impressed so he decided to send me to Italy to Stagein 1 Michein Starred Restaurants. I Obliged and off i was to Italy. The restaurant i was staging was a really nice place filled with talented cooks.For the first time in my carreer i i felt like i was not up to par with everyone .You know how in every kitchen you worked there is someone that you can do the tasks he performs only better and faster ? Well that Kitchen in Italy was nearly perfect.All the cooks there might have been working in a 1 Michelin star restaurant , but all had experience with 2 or 3 Michelin star restaurants. I thought i could tourne vegetables good and Fastbut there was a guy next to me yielding an enormous knife , cutting better and way faster. I thought i was pretty damn good at fabricating Fish.But there was this Japanese guy cutting fish better than i ever thought i was .There wasnt a single person in that Kitchen i could “beat”, so i continued to work and learn.It was an amazing time.
Eventually all the people i was working with got me stages in other Kitchens as well ;I would stage 2-3 days at a time , other times just a day or two , sometimes even more in 2 and 3 Michelin stared Kitchens, eating ,working , Learning.When it was all over i came back to the states and continued Working mad hours 6 sometimes 7 days a week pushing 100 hour workweeks. The lifestyle was taking a toll on me . I had barely any time to do even the simplest of things like a normal person could have the opportunity to do, even simple things like pay bills or go to the Bank. I talked to my girlfriend and i decided to tone it down a bit ,so i started a small catering ,smaller things to bring some balance while i continue doing what i love which is cooking..
During that time my relationship with my Fiance flourished into a Marriage.My in lawsare very artistic and do traditional pottery in wood fired Kilns etc but we will talk more about that later. Well they encouraged me to go into business ,knowing my passion for knifes and sharpening . “Why not knifes..? we will help you in the process”. With me having a degree in Asian studies and my wife japanese with a degree in American studies it made a lot of sense at the time.
It wasn’t easy. It took a lot of time to contact all the vendors and actually convince them to do business with us and sell their knifes through us in the US. Some of them have never sold outside japan, a lot of them were very cautious and it was a process that span over a period of time.
Now to answer your question why Japanese knifes. It is simple: the performance is so significant better. I want to sell stuff that i use . That was the whole idea. The business part took a big chunk of savings and help from my in laws and it was with the help of my wife that i manage to convince these vendors to do business with me. Giving them time , working with them … I was very fortunate to have my wife that is Japanese and speaks the language fluently. And i was very fortunate to have a lot of support from a community i greatly appreciate , Knifeforums.
Dealing with the vendors was not always easy. There are vendors like Konosuke Sakai, people like Kosuke that was very excited to do business with us , to do business internationally . This is the younger generation. The older generation of craftsmen is more set in their ways. We found that out by dealing with custom orders. We been fortunate to have a lot of orders , custom orders. But there are things some of the vendors wont do and others will .
Take for example knifes without handles. Some of them consider a knife without handle to be an incomplete knife. We had lot of requests but eventually decided to stir away from it as a lot of our vendors would refuse to accommodate a request . You see a knifemaker is proud of his craftsmanship and a knife without handle wasn’t something they could understand. On the other hand the younger generation Like Kosuke and Heiji is very perceptive of the market and the feedback we got from out customers allowed them to take steps and accommodate things. So its kind of important to us how this whole process been working. We try to offer a personalized experience to our customers but also maintain our good relationship and personal touch with our vendors.
The whole overall process was very educating;It is these craftsmen we want to celebrate the Japanese culture and we had great feedback both from our customers and our vendors.
Q: who inspired and designed your logo?
You mean the actual graphics on the website,or the stamp?
Q: Well actually both.. I recall a thread on Knifeforums back a while ago… Tell me a bit more…
A: Well the design process was done by me . I did all of the photography , the logos , the programming of the site. I like to be able to do things and being able to fix things or change them around if i wish to or need to, so i decided to do it myself; You know how you learn how to fix things at work? Back in my chef days i learned to repair dishwashers so i didnt have to wait for a technician to show up. The same mentality was applied here . I wanted to be able to be as comfortable as possible with the process.
The actual stamp was a gift from my in laws years ago. My father in law made this stamp and it was pretty cool,because it was non traditional in a way. Its a very personal item and one i am really proud of.
There was a lot of people that helped me in the process . Chris belgium , a knifeforums member , helped me a lot with explaining vector graphics and other website questions. This is one of the reasons i love the forums . It is a community with so many talented people. You put any question up there and there is someone to give you an answer or an approach. It has been a TREMENDOUS resource and i am proud that i have been part of it.
Q: Tell me more about the brands you carry at the moment .. I know most people know some of these brands , at knifeforums…
A: Well there are a few items i carry that are not listed in my website and a few more things i keep around and i show them locally like when i go into a restaurant.I have been a cook and a chef for years so I understand that not everyone will be able to afford or understand the knife.
So when i go into restaurants i let them try some more solid budget brand Japanese knifes. I say :”i know what you are using now and i have something i want you to try..”. The good thing is that people understand and they also don’t have to break the bank.
I carry Kanemasa both stainless and carbon options, a variety to fit all needs. I also do sushi neta cases and some other things but thts on the side for now.
Q: Considering you been a chef that has travelled the world, Italy ,Japan and worked in fine dinning restaurantsin United States how did your vision change, transitioning to a new venture?
A: Oh man …That was tough…The honest truth? Something , a part of me died. To stop cooking is a tough decision for anyone that really into cooking. I was really torn about this decision..You know i always wanted to have a restaurant , cook my own food. I could see the colors on the wall and the tablecloths. I think in transitioning to this new venture , my goal would be to recreate that vision going into a store. And thats what we will be working on .
It was a mental change of things for sure though.
Q:All the brands you carry are some of the finest craftsmen in Japanese cutlery. Your personal experience was paramount to selling some of them. How difficult was for you to transition into being a seller that uses the product, and how challenging was to keep impartial in the process?
A: Well i Think when i was just a member of knifeforums i could say my opinion . When i became a seller i didn’t want anyone to misinterpret my excitement for some of these products . So in order to achieve that, i did a couple of things ; I toned down the excitement. Then i would do ridiculous stuff to ensure that the products i review are impartially reviewed. Its like when i got the Konosuke HD . I would chop things with it, slice products, then literally bang the blade against cutting boards. I really abused the knife over a period of a week to test it . I think i put it through anything possible and then some.
But no matter what people are less likely to take me as impartial . I don’t expect them to in any way but there is a really good way that helped me a lot in this process. No matter what i say or do someone elses experience with my products is the best gift.
I think that i sell things that i like to use;When other people use them and really like them thats whats really great …
Q:Sharpening is a big part of a good knifes maintenance. What Brands of stones do you carry now and what is your opinion about natural water stones?
A: Well for my day to day sharpening i like really hard synthetics. I think they are the best for day to day needs when it comes to sharpening they are easy to use and consistent .
Now its my belief that Natural stones give a better edge and they can also be used to give more specific looks on knifes . They are also a bit different to use and have a wider grit range ,so with JNats you need less stones.I am meeting with a bunch of stone companies and doing some sharpening while in japan . Its going to be really interesting to see , talk and learn first hand…
Q: So are there any plans to expand your selection of stones with japanese Natural Stones in the future?
A: I would like to add more when i am more comfortable with the process. I do not feel selling products that i am not comfortable with. Its not going to be the quickest process ever but i am willing to invest the time. Like i said i want to be comfortable with the products i sell .
I admire Maxim from Knifeforums… He is very helpful and knowledgeable when it comes to Japanese natural stones.
So you will definitely see things added to our shop maybe as soon as after our trip to japan . But it will take some time , time to understand and become comfortable with the product.
Q:Kitchen Tools are everywhere these days . Buying Kitchen tools is relatively easy , but kitchen knifes are different… How easy or difficult is to personalize and recommend a product to a customer (knifes & stones)..
A: It is actually easy as long as you go through a process to analyze their needs. People are great , they send me questions all day about knifes. When someone is asking about a knife i ask him a few questions like what setup he is using what environment he will be using , the knifes, what knifes he currently likes , what stones he uses , the boards he uses etc. I go through this ridiculous process but after those questions are answered with honesty i can comfortably recommend the right product for the customers needs. Depending on their answers alone being honest and accurate i can make a strong solid recommendation .
Q: Your customer service has been outstanding . Being in the chef world for a while how did this experience relate to this new world?
A: Customer service is everything in the Kitchen world. I believe that great service is paramount. It is important to give the outmost attention to every customer and treat each customer with the outmost care to their need. I was fortunate to work a little bit in five diamond resort as a waiter. Way back then we use to have numerous meetings and training sessions. The only thing i learned through those years is that great service “stays with you”. You give great personalized service to your customers and your customers will recommend you over and over.
This is the way i like things to be . In the age of walmart and no service , having someone paying attention to service is very important. I like people asking questions . I want people to use my first name, to be comfortable, throughout their experience and happy.. I feel that customer service is the business. And we actually put the same amount of energy in our relationships with our vendors. Thats why we try to keep this fine balance with our customers and our vendors. In this way we also do justice to their craftsmanship and culture as well .
Q: What does the future hold for japanese knife imports and JBRoida…?
A:Hopefully great things. I think that we ultimately want to have a physical location . In that way we can introduce items and makers that are not available in the States as of yet . A store will allow us to create a unique environment. Its not going to be just a store ; We want it to be educational , bring some more of the Japanese culture.
In the future we also looking forward on working together with this industry . I had a great time meeting with Dave Martel , i am looking forward in the future to more collaborations . Hopefully we can all create a unique way of working together as we move forward.
We will be adding more and more things as we move forward to create a unique and hopefully educational environment. The makers and craftsmen we represent are as much important as our craftsmen.
NOTE: This was a Q&A that was done before Jon made the trip to japan …The pictures are courtesy and property of Japaneseknifeimports.com and are a sole property of JBROIDA company … Since the trip to japan Jon has added more knife makers and beautiful tools and japanese water stones in his website . If you are interested in Japanese Knifes consider Japaneseknifeimports on your next purchase… Highly recommended .
You can find their website here