Calgary-Based Japanese Knife Retailer ‘Knifewear’ Plans Multi-Store Expansion Including Ontario and BC [Interview]

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A fascination and passion for Japanese kitchen knives led Kevin Kent into opening a retail location a few years ago, focused on selling the items in the Canadian market.

Kevin Kent

Today Knifewear has five locations with two in Calgary, and one each in Vancouver, Ottawa and Edmonton. A new Toronto store has been announced to open at 517 Bloor Street West in the city’s Annex area, set to open in June.

Kent, Founder and CEO, said Toronto and Vancouver are huge.

“I’m not going to put the idea that we only need one store in those cities. I see two or three stores in Toronto and Vancouver. They’re huge cities. I can see them supporting two or three stores,” he said. “Montreal would be great but Quebec has its challenges. Then after that I’d really like a shop and a warehouse in Japan. Kyoto would be fantastic.”

Knifewear Toronto (Rendering: Knifewear)
Image: Knifewear

He said people assume Knifewear sells only to chefs but the brand sells to all consumers.

“I’m an old chef and I bought a Japanese knife when I was living in England in 1999 and I had that moment . . . I said hold on what’s going on here. Why is this way, way, way better than anything I ever had before?,” said Kent.

At the time, he was working as sous-chef for the legendary chef Fergus Henderson at St. John restaurant in London, England. Back in Canada in 2007 he began selling them out of a backpack from the back of his bicycle, while working as a chef in Calgary.

Image: Knifewear
Image: Knifewear

In January 2008, he opened his first store in the inner city Inglewood neighbourhood of Calgary.

“We haven’t opened a new shop in about six years. We were going to open in Toronto in 2020 in May or June and we were in the middle of dealing with a lease at that time in the middle of March when COVID hit. So we hit the brakes as you can imagine. I’ve been trying to get to Toronto for a long time,” said Kent.

“But finally, finally, finally. I’m pretty excited about it.”

He considers his chef years as the best education for being an entrepreneur.

Being a chef takes long hours, involves hard work, both mentally and physically, and chefs must be able to put out fires, both literal and figurative, with extreme competence. Today, Kent is still just as obsessed with Japanese knives as the day he first held one. A couple times a year, he travels to Japan to meet with his blacksmith friends and drinks far too much sake, according to his biography on the company website.

“Each visit he learns more about the ancient art of knife-making. Through this obsession Knifewear has expanded to include five Knifewear stores in Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Edmonton. Plans are also underway to open a store in Kyoto, Japan. He refuses to confess how many Japanese knives he owns … but he admits the number is rather high.”

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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