Not too surprised at this.
I’ve attended sake events held in Japanese restaurants (in Northern California), and unless the restaurant has a direct/separate relationship with a rep (or president) from the brewery (e.g. the rep or whoever is visiting and promoting the portfolio sans distributor), it’s not uncommon for the distributor’s rep to be present to host the event (and in some cases advise and provide the master plan). It’s also entirely possible that depending on the restaurant, the rep may even have to come up with food pairing ideas for the restaurant (or give them inspiration). In a way this can be mutually beneficial and the end result being the customer getting a better experience of trying the right sake with the optimal food to pair with. If the restaurant’s sake event is done in a format where there is a lineup, and the customer gets to choose/mix and match, it is great data collection for the distributor rep to gauge customer preferences, and potential market for importing new sake.
No idea what’s in those contracts and the relationship between the restaurant/wine shop vs the distributor but those are quite interesting (and challenging) stipulations indeed in the case of K&L. I can see the reason for the distributor’s rep to be there, so that the distributor’s portfolio is properly represented, and the rep mostly could easily answer any questions customers might have about the product lineup (not uncommon if the reps are also WSET or equivalent certified). I remember several years ago K&L Northern California had a dedicated sake buyer (also wine certified) who was rather knowledgeable, but that person departed for some time. I don’t know who is handling the sake buying and how items are selected. Now there are at least three sources for their sake (Vine Connections, Winebow group, World Sake). Also entirely possible that one of these sources don’t want other sake in a tasting lineup (which is a bit silly but I get it). Or if a restaurant has 3 sources for sake, and one of the reps from one of the three sources handles and collaborates for an event, of course that person would want to dictate that the event lineup have sake come entirely from their portfolio.
It’s a shame that even something like tastings can get political and contentious. But then again, with all those layers of distribution from the brewer to the end consumer as Starchtrade has shown us, and with the people element, things always get more complicated.