Justin Williams has been cooking professionally for over 20 years. He started studying Japanese at Lake Oswego High School, and earned a B.A. from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, with a major in Sociology and minor in Japanese. As an exchange student, he spent one year in Kyoto, Japan, attending Doshisha University. There his studies focused on art and aesthetics, and included training as an apprentice with local chefs and ceramic artists.
Upon returning to Portland, Justin started training as an apprentice Sushi chef in 1991, and spent three years learning basic skills at Koji Osakaya. Then, drawn by an opportunity in Sun Valley, Idaho, Justin helped two partners open, and then run a successful 45-seat restaurant called Sushi on Second. A snowboard injury prompted relocation to Maui, Hawaii, where he worked at Sansei in the Kapalua Bay resort. There he learned about the local style of sushi, gained exposure to international cuisine, and experienced a very appealing resort lifestyle.
After Hawaii, Justin worked in Beaverton, Oregon, for a local Asian supermarket, Uwajimaya. At Uwajimaya, Justin was a Purchasing Manager, Deli Assistant Manager, and Seafood Processor. As the head beverage purchaser he was responsible for planning special promotions with local and international sake and wine companies. As Deli Manager he over-saw a large-scale Sushi and Asian foods deli including catering, pre-packaged sushi production, and special festival promotions.
In anticipation of marriage and family life, Justin accepted a chef position at Saburo's Sushi House in Southeast Portland - an enormously popular restaurant - where the sushi is huge and the prices are low. But there was little opportunity for creative growth as a chef. After three years of keeping the pace at Saburo's, a truly hectic, "Tokyo-style" sushi house, Justin honed his finer chef skills with a stint at Masu in Northwest Portland.
After eight years in the Columbia Gorge working at one of the most popular restaurants for locals, Justin has gained a new respect and passion for the Gorge lifestyle. Connection with local farmers, foragers, and artists has brought a great rotation of locally sourced foods and rotating artists on display. A variety of outdoor recreation opportunities has made for epic one, two, or three sport days, followed by an evening of sharing the stoke with locals and travelers in the lively atmosphere of an resort-town Sushi Bar. Like so many others, we came for the snow and surf, but stayed for the biking, kayaking, hiking, and just plain living the dream!
Sushi Okalani is named in honor of Justin's daughter. Okalani is a Hawaiian word meaning "Child of Heaven." She is the inspiration behind Justin's desire to create a "heavenly" sushi experience.