BILLINGS - Juliano's Restaurant in Billings will close after 29 years because its chef, Carl Kurokawa, is retiring.
Customers attribute the success to Kurokawa's creativity, as well as the family home atmosphere.
The chefs prepared a special lamb meal which included lamb in every dish on Wednesday.
It's that type of creativity that Kurokawa has done for 50 years, including 29 years at Juliano's.
"It gets in the blood," Kurokawa said. "I was always a restaurant rat and I've always been in the kitchen since I was washing dishes when I was 16 over there. Got out in a pineapple field and decided that wasn't my bag."
Kurokawa grew up in Hawaii, and after some setbacks, met his wife and moved to Billings.
"I had no intention of staying in Montana, but that was like 43 years ago," he said.
He and business partners Dave McCurdy and Tim Keating purchased Juliano's in 1995.
"Juliano's means an opportunity to give Carl an opportunity to create," Keating said. "That was his dream."
And they kept the name from previous owners.
"The original Juliano's was they wanted to have kind of a European flavor to that," Kurokawa said. "So it went from Julie Ann, was his wife, and they made it Juliano's. I wanted to change the name but we had some difference of opinion when we first bought the place so we left it. But my wife's name happened to be Julie Ann also. So it all kind of works out."
Kurokawa says it was challenging in the beginning, but he approached the new business with confidence.
"I went public and said you know, Billings, Montana deserves me," Kurokawa said. "They just don't know it yet. With that attitude, I just kept moving."
Billings did get to know Carl.
He appeared on "Cooking With Carl" and "Q2 Cuisine" segments for several years on Montana This Morning.
Customers appreciate his creativity and sense of humor.
"He's a character, but not in a weird sense," said Ed Hahn.
"One my favorite places to go to lunch with my women friends," said Pam Hahn. "And all of us are going to miss that a lot."
One group came to enjoy the lamb dinner because Kurokawa bought the meat from the Lehfeldt ranch in Lavina..
"Just can't be a better spot or a better family to deal with," said Erik Lehfeldt.
Some workers have been at the restaurant since the beginning.
"Guys at work here, it's all fun," said Rick Finch, who works as a prep cook and dishwasher.
Keating credits the restaurant staff, some of whom have been there from the beginning, as well as Chef Carl.
"Juliano's wouldn't be there without Carl's passion for putting flavors together," Keating said. "Beyond my expectations. Great run. Great to go out on top."
"I'm sprinting to the finish," Kurokawa said.
And he'll do that until Dec. 23.