Ken Katsuma, who owned a State Street sushi restaurant that developed a deep following among some UW-Madison students, died Tuesday from lung cancer at age 66, his wife said.
Katsuma owned Wasabi at 449 State St. for 25 years. MaryRay Katsuma said she and Ken often put in 14-hour days together. The couple closed the restaurant in 2018 after they had difficulty paying the rent.
The financial problems began after Ken had a kidney transplant in 2006, MaryRay said. Earlier this year, they were working on getting him back on the kidney transplant waiting list for a second time.
“Cancer was much too fast for Ken,” she said.
Wasabi sushi was selected as one of “30 plates that define Madison“ in a 2015 State Journal series. Some UW-Madison students used to eat at Wasabi “every single day, lunch and dinner, and get the same thing,” MaryRay said then.
Wasabi staff began naming sushi rolls after their regular customers. There was the Kathy, which featured tempura salmon and avocado, and the Kelsey, a “reverse” (rice-on-the-outside) roll with shrimp and green onion.
Katsuma was born in Kagoshima, Japan, and grew up in Kobe, Japan. He was the fifth of five brothers, MaryRay said.
The couple were married 15 years with five grown children between them. They met through MaryRay’s Japanese mother, who knew Katsuma because of his interest in Soka Gakkai International Buddhism.
“Ken had the most welcoming smile,” MaryRay said. “Never ever saw any wrong in anyone. Even when people took advantage of his kindness.”
She said her husband loved to play video games, do sudoku puzzles, and watch movies and game shows. “Wheel of Fortune” was his favorite.
Wasabi’s second-floor State Street location is again a sushi restaurant. Yume is run by Erica and Brian Ni.