Chef/Owner Dave “D.K.” Kodama
It’s been a dozen years since this “local boy” from ‘Aiea, O’ahu, opened his first Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar in Kapalua, Maui. Saying he’s “come a long way, baby,” would be the ultimate understatement. Dave Kodama – known to all as simply “D.K.” (which he says stands for “don’t know”) – now owns and operates seven restaurants on three islands. The original Sansei Kapalua moved to brand new digs just in time for its tenth anniversary in September 2006. In May 2000, Kodama opened his second Sansei at Honolulu’s Restaurant Row and in April 2002, the third location of the wildly popular concept was opened in Kīhei, Maui. In September 2004, D.K. took another giant leap when he moved the Restaurant Row Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar from Restaurant Row to the beautiful Waikīkī Beach Marriott Resort & Spa and added d.k Steak House at the same location. In July 2004 he teamed with Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya to open VINO Italian Tapas & Wine Bar at Restaurant Row and four months later they brought in one of Hawai‘i’s best chefs, Hiroshi Fukui, to open Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas, also at Restaurant Row. In February 2008, Hawai‘i Islanders got the Sansei they’d been craving at Queen’s MarketPlace in beautiful Waikoloa. Like the others, it was an instant hit.
The guy works pretty much non-stop and always has a smile on his face. And a famously wry sense of humor. Ask him about that “Home of The Other Red Meat” slogan thing and he’ll reply, “Ahi, of course!” Ask him about that original phone number – 669-OCTO – and he’ll tell you “OCTO as in OCTOpus.” He says he’s always smiling because he works at something he truly loves. (Some of us think that smiling face may also have something to do with the DOZENS of awards his restaurants have won and the THOUSANDS of happy patrons the restaurants have served over the years!)
Dave Kodama was born and raised in a family pretty typical of second-generation Japanese in Hawai‘i – hard-working parents and six kids happily living the simple Island life. Kodama was following in his father’s footsteps as a civil engineering major at the University of Hawai‘i when the bug bit. In 1979 he became the first of his clan to venture off to the Mainland…and the glamorous restaurant business.
He spent three years in Seattle and a decade in Aspen. Off-seasons at the ski resort provided Kodama with time to travel throughout the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. And to introduce his palate to a world of new flavors and culinary styles. When he wasn’t traveling, he learned the art of making sushi and expanded his culinary skills still further by working for an upscale caterer.
With his sushi-making skills and years of management experience, he quickly found a niche on Maui. He made a “great deal” with the folks at Kapalua and opened Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar in March 1996. The restaurant has been collecting rave reviews and racking up culinary honors ever since. Most prestigious are the overall rating of 90 in Wine Spectator, the highest food rating in both the 1998 and 1999 Zagat Hawai‘i Restaurant Surveys, numerous consecutive HONOLULU magazine Hale ‘Aina Awards, inclusion as one of Bon Appetit’s “Favorite Asian Restaurants” and one of “America’s Best Sushi Bars” in Travel + Leisure. His cookbook, “D.K.’s Sushi Chronicles from Hawai'i: Recipes from Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar,” was released nationally in January 2004 (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley) and a paperback edition is planned for 2009.
So wanna know how you can really make his day? “Dress casual, bring a smile, relax and enjoy the adventure of dining at Sansei,” says D.K. By the way, if you compliment him on the job he’s done, he will always credit the “team” – the “team” of which he is most definitely the captain.
D.K. and his wife Lori live in Honolulu with their three children – Brie Ann, Chev, Cashel Bleu. And yes, we know the children all have “cheese” names. We told he had a wry sense of humor, didn’t we?