Saying Aloha To Mom Kodama
Wednesday - October 29, 2008
The restaurant community, despite its hundreds of thousands of employees, is a small one. Wait staff and hostesses, chefs and managers, bakers and bartenders, and even humble food writers are all interconnected, tied together by an invisible thread. We are a family. Today we are a family struggling to come to terms with the fact that we’ve lost our mom.
Technically, Sandy Kodama was chef D.K. Kodama’s mom, but he, I’m sure, would be the first to admit that his mom was the onein-a-million kind. The kind everybody secretly wanted as their own.
Sandy, who was born in New York City and raised in Wahiawa, was one of the most incredibly warm, loving and inspirational human beings most of us had ever met. Mom to D.K., his four brothers and sister Diane, she was the person you hoped to see at any food event and on every visit to the restaurant. From recipes for brownies to big bear hugs, Sandy had the best ones, and she especially seemed to have them when you needed one most. At 77, she still “worked” most nights as the hostess at Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar and at the steak house next door. At food events and parties, she’d lend a hand with everything from setting up tables to packing up the van.
“She’d be the first one bringing out the supplies, and the last person still cooking shrimp and talking at the end of the night,” remembers Chuck Furuya.
She told me once that her incredible energy and drive came from other people. “I like to draw on positive energy,” she said, giving me that huge smile, “even with negative people, I like to take a little positive something.”
When she died Oct. 4, the restaurant community was stunned and saddened. At her funeral last Saturday afternoon, people came by the thousands to say goodbye. Kaimuki Christian Church (which was founded by her grandfather) was bursting at the seams as Mom Kodama’s extended family gathered to say Aloha. And if you’d listened to any of the conversations as people stood in line to pay their respects, what you would have heard were stories of a life well-lived and filled with love.
Sandy Kodama quite simply had one of the largest hearts of any human being I’ve ever met. But she also had something else - a unique ability to make everyone feel special. From scooping up toddlers from the restaurant floor and walking them around while harried moms and dads enjoyed a few moments of peaceful eating, to remembering your baby had had a cold or offering some advice on teething, she somehow made you feel that you and your family were just as important to her as her own.
“I keep expecting to see her picking up a crying baby or hugging a guest,” says Ivy Nagayama, managing partner at d.k Steak House. “You can feel her spirit throughout the restaurants still.”
Just being around her made you want to be a better person, and she always made me want to be a better mom. I asked her recently for advice on bringing up our boys and she looked at me with that glorious twinkle in her eye. “Just love those boys equally,” she said. ” I tell you, Jo, love them, love them, love them.”
And then she gave me one of her enormous hugs.
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