Kuni's is one of Australia's longest running Japanese-owned restaurants. It was opened by Kunihiro Ichikawa in 1977, three years after he arrived in Australia as a student, at a time when there were only a couple of Japanese restaurants in Melbourne. Kuni had first started cooking in Japan primarily to feed his family and it was not until coming to Melbourne that we worked in commercial kitchens in order to support himself as a student. Consequently, he has no formal training as a chef. Kuni first worked at Sukiyaki House in Alfred Place, probably the oldest Japanese restaurant in Melbourne (open in the 1960s and closed in the late 1980s). It specialised in sukiyaki (a hot pot cooked at the table) and, like the other restaurants, tended to be expensive.
Kuni first opened Kuni's restaurant in Crossley Place and later relocated to Little Bourke Street as the business grew. Kunihiro has reflected that operating a Japanese restaurant in those early years was difficult due to a lack of Japanese products in Australia. However, he saw this as a great challenge and creating Kuni's in Crossley Lane gave him a chance to explore his creativity, such as designing his own sushi counter as the local carpenters had never seen or heard of such a thing then. Kunihiro's business partner, Terunobu Hirata still produces the crockery used in the restaurant. In the early days, Kuni found that many Australians were reluctant to eat raw fish and he recalls having to give away sushi in order to persuade people to try raw fish. He found then that fresh fish was difficult to obtain and had it flown in specially from Sydney.
Kuni's restaurant has since been the training ground for many respected Japanese chefs and cooks and many others have since opened, many with Kuni's own involvement. Kuni has aimed to attract a Western palate while still maintaining Japanese cooking traditions, and ambient aesthetics in the restaurant. Today, sushi and sashimi are regularly served in restaurants, sushi bars and at functions throughout Australia.