Decades-old Maui Sushi Business Still Going Strong
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Running a food business was never in Stella and Douglas Kodama’s plan in 1980 when they sought to purchase the property next to their own on Lower Main Street in Wailuku. They were eyeing that parcel, occupied by Miyako Sushi, to provide more parking for their tenant, the Holsum Bakery thrift store. But, Miyako Sushi’s owner at the time, Tad Nakamoto, would only sell the property to the Kodamas if they continued Miyako Sushi for at least five more years. Nakamoto wanted to make sure that his women workers, who were getting up there in age, would not be left suddenly without jobs.
So recalls Stella’s and Douglas’ son Michael, who was a student at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa at the time. The Kodamas became the fourth owners of the sushi-making business. Kodama said his parents “had no clue” of how to operate a food business, but they agreed to Nakamoto’s terms anyway. While the younger Kodama was away in college in the early 1980s, his parents collected the deposits from the business and Miyako Sushi continued plugging along.
Michael Kodama had two options when he returned to Maui in 1986: He could either run the sushi business or install carpet and drapery at another family business, Standard Furniture, located down the street. He chose the food business. With so many other relatives involved in the furniture business, he decided to go with the sushi business, despite the fact that the five-year obligation to continue the sushi business had passed. Interestingly, the books showed that Miyako Sushi was turning a profit.
Then he began encountering problems.
One day, a customer came in. “Yesterday, your cone sushi was real sweet,” he said.
The next day another customer reported: “Only vinegary your sushi.”
And then a comment from another customer on the third day: “Eh, no more taste.”
“Three days in a row, three different comments,” Kodama said.
The young college graduate, who had no professional food experience, headed to the kitchen in the back of the building, where the ladies made the su, the vinegar mix to flavor the rice.
“‘Who is making the su?’” Kodama asked.
“I have three hands come up,” he said.
After having the ladies write down their recipes, Kodama said he “cherry-picked” the best parts of each recipe — some didn’t have enough of this; others had too much of other ingredients.
“They more-or-less had it,” Kodama said, adding, “What you (are tasting) today is what I made in 1986.” Apparently, that su, refined more than 30 years ago, is still a hit.
The Kodamas surmise that Miyako Sushi was in operation for about 60 years before they acquired it, which means it was likely established in the 1920s. More than a half-century later, it continues to be a local favorite.
The rolled sushi (maki sushi) and cone sushi (inarizushi) are among Miyako’s most popular items. They are distributed all over the Valley Isle — at Longs Drug stores, Minit Stop convenience stores and other outlets.
According to Kodama, 85 percent of Miyako’s business comes from its retail and restaurant customers, such as restaurants Tokyo Tei and Sam Sato’s.
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