Joto Sake is the artisanal sake portfolio of Kobrand Wine and Spirits. “Joto” means “highest quality.” This is the standard we strive for in everything we do.
Joto Sake LLC was founded in 2005 by Henry Sidel, who studied Japanese at Carleton College in Minnesota and lived in Japan as a homestay student. After graduating from Carleton, Henry went into the food and beverage industry, working for Ciao Bella Gelato, Brooklyn Brewery, and Belvedere Vodka. Henry discovered sake in 1999 at Sakagura, one of the first restaurants in the U.S. to have a book as its sake menu. Amazed by the geographical diversity and variety of sake, Henry dove into the category, buying books, going to tastings, buying sake, and taking tasting notes.
From 1999-2001, Henry also completed the Executive MBA program at NYU-Stern with a fellowship from Carleton. He was eager to apply his learnings and found the perfect case study with Joto. Henry took the entrepreneurial leap in 2005 with three breweries, distributing in New York State only. From there, he built the portfolio, the Joto team, and national distribution.
With Joto Sake, Henry wanted to create a sake portfolio that had the same approach and reputation as the best wine companies. He modeled Joto Sake after Kobrand Wine and Spirits, the New York–based wine importer and marketer that was founded in 1944.
“Joto” means “highest quality,” which is the guiding principle in everything we do. We also want to act as a bridge between the Japanese sake world and the U.S. market. We carefully select all of our producers and all of their products. Although we are highly focused, we aim to cover the complete range of regions, types of sake, and styles. We also focus on breweries with unique stories, whether it be their history, technique, ingredients, or style.
In 2011, Henry was introduced to Kobrand’s CEO, Bob DeRoose, by a mutual colleague in the industry. The colleague described Joto as “the Kobrand of sake.” Bob was intrigued and they met. The timing wasn’t right, but, in 2016, after meeting many times, Bob felt the time and fit were right. He led the process with Kobrand’s ownership and they acquired Joto.
Henry joined Kobrand in 2016 and has continued managing Joto’s portfolio, sales, marketing, supplier relations, and supply chain management. Also coming over from Joto, Ryan Mellinger also joined Kobrand the regional sake sales manager for New York, the East Coast, and Central U.S. business. We are pleased to have Andrew Sowers out of Miami covering the Southeast and Yuto Someya in Los Angeles covering the WesternStates. They cover the entire U.S. for Joto Sake, working with our colleagues at Kobrand, our distributors, and our customers.
From 2005 to 2012, Joto only promoted its breweries and their brands. Over time, the team saw the need and the opportunity for a brand that would introduce sake to new consumers. Henry searched for a design agency with the ability to combine information and branding. Despite the abundance of agencies in New York, he found the perfect fit with Parallax Design in Adelaide, Australia. Parallax redesigned Joto’s original logo and corporate identity, and created its entire lineup of sakes. Joto’s producers make all of the sakes. You can learn more on the Joto Brand page.
Ozeki was the first sake maker to produce one cup sakes in the 1970s. Larger breweries followed and single servings became ubiquitous, especially at “conbini,” Japanese delis, and at train stations, to go with bento boxes. Over the past ten to fifteen years, craft sake makers have jumped into the game with cute and fun designs. There are even “cup sake” bars and shops. Originally, we hired Japanese graffiti artist, Shiro, to create a mural for the back wall of our old office. We were also excited about Kamomidori One Cups, made by our producer, Marumoto, in Okayama. This one cup is the best seller in the local area despite the intense competition from big producers. We combined the two and created Joto One Cup.