About Us – A Brief History

Thank you for visiting our website. If you’re curious about Kitchen Samurai’s identity and origins, have a read. We’re ecstatic to have you here!

Neil Janse van Rensburg – Our Founder

In 2017, Kitchen Samurai surfaced from humble beginnings. Its founder, Neil Janse van Rensburg, held a position as a chef in 2016 and embarked on a personal journey to find a high-quality, handcrafted Japanese kitchen knife. Options were limited within South Africa. The only way to obtain an expertly crafted knife then was through imports. This event sparked a moment of inspiration.

Florida, Miami

However, let’s rewind a few years. A decade prior, Neil pursued his culinary education to become a chef. After graduation, he worked at a local restaurant for several months before packing his bags and journeying to the land of promise and opportunity, the United States of America. He spent a few years as a line cook on a Florida estate, discovering that unwavering effort and dedication lay the groundwork for success. At that point, he had not realised the significance of his hard work for his future business ventures.

Reuben’s, Franschhoek

After his time in the States, he undertook brief stints in Europe before returning to South Africa. Upon his homecoming, he set a formidable challenge for himself: to work at one of South Africa’s premier restaurants. At that time, chef Reuben Riffel reigned as one of the country’s most renowned chefs. Neil resolved that his next destination would be Reuben’s in Franschhoek, South Africa.

Reuben’s, heralded as one of South Africa’s most prestigious restaurants, was accompanied by a demanding, high-pressure environment. The high standards had to be upheld while slaving amid one of South Africa’s busiest kitchens. Neil spent approximately four years at Reuben’s before returning to his hometown, Bellville.

Arugula, Bellville

In Bellville, a duo of budding entrepreneurial talents, Anuschka Horn and Neil Swart, emerged and established a restaurant named Arugula. By this point, Neil stood on the brink of burnout, and, quite frankly, his once genuine passion for cooking had dissipated. Arugula presented him with the opportunity to reconnect with his roots and to spend time with family, friends, and loved ones. It was during his time at Arugula that Neil’s passion for Japan was rekindled. He just had to buy himself a Japanese kitchen knife…

Kitchen Samurai is born

In December 2016, Neil decided to leave the cheffing industry and pursue his love for Japan and hand-forged Japanese kitchen knives.

Kitchen Samurai was born in April 2017. The journey, like any self-made entrepreneurial venture, came with immense challenges stemming from limited funding and a need for more awareness. Our first knives were sold to peers and acquaintances in the restaurant industry acquired during Neil’s time as a professional chef. Many days were spent travelling to Cape Town’s top restaurants to demo and showcase Japanese kitchen knives. At that time, the offering was limited. Twenty-odd knives to choose from. Something that South Africa has never seen before. Kitchen Samurai was here to stay!

Our first location

With no physical location or lack of stock to fill it up, the online store had to suffice. Only after a year and a bit, in August 2018, we had the opportunity to move into the newly renovated Salt Orchard in Salt River, Cape Town. This was not a standalone store but a concept store shared with two other Japanese cookware, homeware and general retailers. However, Kitchen Samurai now had a brick-and-mortar location where knife lovers could lay eyes on and, more importantly, touch and feel the balance of the blades.

Let’s Stand Alone

After great success with the concept store, we briefly relocated in February 2020 to a shared space in Woodstock, Cape Town. However, fate took an unexpected turn with news of the pandemic—an event that dealt a severe blow to countless small retailers. Amid this crisis, Kitchen Samurai found a silver lining; the pandemic served as motivation for deep introspection. Amidst the reflection, a resolute idea emerged: Kitchen Samurai needed to operate independently.

As the demand for retail spaces plummeted, unimagined opportunities presented themselves. On the 1st of August 2020, we officially settled into the charming Tyger Waterfront in Bellville, Cape Town. The space, once an Italian restaurant, required substantial refurbishment. This space transformed remarkably over two years into a knife enthusiast’s dreamland.

During our time at the Tyger Waterfront, a significant milestone was achieved: we welcomed our first team member, Matthew Smith, as a store assistant in April 2021.

The Real Waterfront

After two years at our first standalone space, we had developed grand ambitions. We wanted to move to a busier part of Cape Town and closer to our professional chef customers to improve our sharpening service offering. We scouted and visited locations in and around Cape Town for months, yet none captured our attention. On some idle, unassuming Tuesday afternoon, fate intervened when we stumbled upon an advertisement for a space in the V&A Waterfront. Everything else that followed is now etched in history! Our dream location had arrived.

We’ve been in the V&A Waterfront since September 2022. We’re immensely proud of the space we created with INHOUSE Design Studios. In March 2023, our team expanded as Jonathan Tennant joined as a store assistant, and Matthew assumed the store manager role.

We love what we do

We’re truly amazed by how far Kitchen Samurai has come since its inception. Customers have become friends. We absolutely adore the fact that we share our passion with fellow Japanese enthusiasts and knife lovers. We’re always trying to push the envelope with our kitchen knife offering and other services and products surrounding it. Only the best Japan has to offer will ever be enough.

Welcome to Kitchen Samurai.