Like many of the top sushi chefs in the U.S., New York City--based Nick Kim buys fish from a company called True World Foods. "They know exactly what we're looking for. If you can close your eyes and picture anything from Tsukiji market [the legendary Tokyo marine emporium], they can get it for you," Kim says. "It's a great personal relationship."
Personal? By all accounts, True World is one of the largest--if not the largest--suppliers of fish to sushi restaurants across the U.S. Yet it is a mysterious company, one whose exact dimensions are unknown, whose own employees can't identify its CEO and whose inner workings are obscure. It is also a company affiliated with the Unification Church.
That church, which now goes by the name Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU), was founded in 1954 by the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon and is best known for its mass weddings of thousands of couples paired by Moon. A church official who would speak only anonymously denied that FFWPU owns True World Foods outright. But 2011 court records have FFWPU charging one of Moon's sons, Preston, with improperly exceeding his authority with the company. True World doesn't make it easy to figure out who owns or runs what. The automated voice system of its New Jersey headquarters doesn't seem to be working, and messages to its New York office go unanswered.
True World has sales offices in 23 cities across the U.S., and according to a spokeswoman it delivers to 7,500 restaurants daily. TIME called 70 sushi restaurants across the country, and 48 said they were supplied by True World. "It's hard to measure total influence, but they are the dominant national player," says Sasha Issenberg, author of The Sushi Economy.
In the 1970s, Moon identified the ocean as his organization's spiritual future and an important source of its financial success. Given America's obsession with sushi today, he couldn't have known how prescient he was.
--Lisa Abend, With Cleo Brock-Abraham and Andrew Katz