Kodama ended up spending three years in Seattle and then moved to Aspen, Colorado where he lived for 10 years. During Aspen's off-season, he traveled around the U.S., Mexico, and the Caribbean, eating and learning all he could about food. During this decade, he refined his culinary skills and gained the knowledge that would later help him as a restaurateur.
In 1995 D.K. returned to Hawaii and opened his first restaurant, Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar in March of 1996 at the Kapalua Resorts on Maui. His concept of providing contemporary sushi and innovative fusion seafood in a fun and lively setting was an instant success. Sansei's awards and accolades include a prestigious 90 rating 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. In 2000 and 2002 Kodama opened a second and third Sansei, on Oahu and Kihei, Maui.
In keeping with his love of food and people, in 2003 Kodama partnered with Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya to open Vino Italian Tapas and Wine Bar in the Kapalua Resorts. A second Vino was opened in Honolulu in 2004. The original Maui location closed in 2007 due to resort renovations.
D.K. Kodama is also the author of D.K.'s Sushi Chronicles from Hawai'i: Recipes from Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar, published by Ten Speed Press.
One of the biggest perks of being Sansei’s publicist for more than a decade was the honor of calling Sandy “Mom” Kodama my friend. Everyone who ever met her, loved her. And even if you never had the privilege of meeting her, believe me when I tell you her spirit inhabits every inch of every one of her son D.K.’s restaurants. Much of the aloha you feel comes directly from “Mom.” Her passing in October 2008 was a HUGE loss. Not just to her husband, Tamateru, and her children and her grandchildren, her extended family, and her vast network of friends. Hawai‘i’s foodservice community lost its most enthusiastic cheerleader.
So it could not be more fitting that “Dad” Kodama – with the support of his family – established the endowed Sunao Sandy “Mom” Kodama Memorial Scholarship Fund. The fund provides scholarships to students in Leeward Community College’s culinary program, with preference given to students who graduated from a Hawai‘i high school.
“Dad” says it best. “Sandy treated people with love and respect, and always encouraged young people to follow their dreams. With this scholarship in her memory, her legacy of love and support lives on. It is our hope that this fund will help make it possible for local students with a passion for the culinary arts to live their dreams and become chefs.”
Those of us who knew her continue to be inspired by her every day. Now, a whole new generation of culinarians will be inspired by her, too.