There’s an old saying that perfectly describes Chef Henry Moso’s dedication to his craft: Love what you do for a living, and you’ll never work a day in your life.
“That word, ‘work,’ has never existed to me” Moso said. “I enjoy doing (what I do).”
Moso, 28, is the owner and executive chef of Kabooki Sushi, where he specializes in serving up contemporary Japanese cuisine. He opened his first restaurant location in east Orlando about six years ago and will be opening the second in early May in Dr. Phillips at 7705 Turkey Lake Road.
In 2006, Moso left his home country of Laos at age 16 and moved to the Orlando area. His mother owned two restaurants, Bangkok Square and Origami Sushi, near UCF at the time, and it was at those restaurants where he started his career. Like his mother, he started as a dishwasher and worked his way up the ranks. A hard worker from the start, Moso eventually saved up enough from washing dishes to buy his own car.
“I started as a dishwasher like her, and I was enjoying it — to be honest — to be able to earn a paycheck and be able to save up money and buy whatever I want to buy,” Moso said. “I remember I saved up $10,000, because I wanted a (Nissan) 350Z at that time. I bought a brand-new 350Z (with) my own money.”
Moso said although he had to balance going to school and working almost full time, he always enjoyed doing it. When he opened his own restaurant at age 22, he combined the culinary experience he gained from working at his mom’s restaurants with something else he loved: Japanese culture and cuisine.
Kabooki features locally sourced, seasonal ingredients combined with some of the best seafood imported from Japan. Moso said his culinary creations stray far away from some of the typical, sauce-covered sushi rolls one may find at other Japanese restaurants.
“I feel like sushi is all about experience,” Moso said. “That (experience) is what we aim for. … I want the rice to be warm, the fish to be not too cold — people think the fish has to be cold, but that’s not true. The fish has to be a perfect room temperature in order to taste the perfect amount of texture, oil, flavor of the fish (and) things like that. My goal is to deliver the best experience, whether it’s on the countertop or the table.”
Moso said Kabooki in east Orlando attracts customers from all over Orange County. Although the restaurant is far from all the tourist hotspots, it’s not uncommon for tourists to visit his restaurant. Because of that demand, Moso decided to open his second location for Kabooki in Dr. Phillips to be closer to the tourists and West Orange sushi aficionados.
“I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity out here (in Dr. Phillips),” Moso said. “A majority of our customers are from Windermere or Sand Lake. Sometimes, it surprises me by how much business I miss. … We only have a 44-seat restaurant (in east Orlando) that’s serving 100 to 150 (customers) from 5 to 10 p.m.”
Opening a second Kabooki Sushi location is a testament to the passion and dedication that Moso has for his craft. It’s commonly known running a restaurant yields a low profit margin, but the success of Moso’s first restaurant has afforded him the opportunity to open his second on his own dime.
“When I first opened, it was so hard,” Moso said. “I started on a shoestring budget. I didn’t have a lot of support as far as financially. … This (second) restaurant, everything that you see inside it is all me. There’s no investor. There’s no bank loan. Everything is from my own money.”