Build-Your-Own at Sushi U

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The only job opening was at the sushi bar, so Samuel Sapp said, “Sure, I’ll learn.” That was a good decision.

Sapp, the owner of Sushi U (near Costco in Kailua-Kona), has paid his sushi education dues. He worked the sushi bars at California Rock‘n‘Sushi on O‘ahu, learning prep, moving up to chef and eventually, head sushi chef.

Upon returning to Kona, he worked at Saketume and Izkayakai. Sapp also put in his kitchen time and learned his chops at Hokulia, Roy’s Waikoloa and the Hapuna Prince Hotel.

And then, opportunity knocked in the form of a place to open his own restaurant in Kona. Sapp split a storefront with another tenant and put his sister, Natalie Shiotsuka, to work.


“I’m quite proud of her, as she was not really into looking for a career in food service,” said Sapp. ” She decided to help me out, anyway. So, I taught her how to make sushi and she’s becoming quite the sushi chef.”

There are many places where you can get sushi on the Big Island. However, there aren’t that many where you can get sushi (or chirashi) made to order.

It’s a simple system: Pick a type of roll—temaki, uramaki, futomaki, hosomaki, etc.  Then, pick a protein—tuna, spicy tuna, salmon, shrimp, etc. Follow that with a filling—avocado, cucumber, tofu, to name a few—and add a sauce—spicy mayo, ponzo, or others. Lastly, you pick a topping—seaweed salad, green onion, masago, etc.  There is a big, helpful board with columns and definitions. Sam or Natalie will deftly assemble and off you go.

The restaurant is tiny, so eating in can be a challenge, but Sapp is looking at options for additional seating.  In the meantime, during the lunch rush, he recommends calling ahead (808-756-0163).


We were thrilled with our selections—Philly Roll and California Rolls—($8 each), brimming with fresh, delicious ingredients. We visited with Sapp while he quickly assembled the rolls.

Fish is wonderfully fresh, as Sapp has friends with fishing boats.

I asked Sapp about the most popular selections; he said those would be the Spicy Tuna Roll and the Philly Roll. However, most people enjoy the option of creating their own sushi style as well as choosing ingredients.

“The chirashis are becoming quite the top seller these days,” he said. “I think that’s the way it’s going to keep heading, because they are quite a big meal for your dollar.”


While he finds it nice being in business for himself, Sapp realizes he’ll only get out of his business what he puts into it.

“The biggest challenges are time management and being responsible with that time and getting the things done that need to be done,” said Sapp. “But seeing how customers’ faces light up and how happy they are… it really makes my day.  You feel like you’re doing something right.  That’s why I make sushi—to make other people happy.”

Sushi U is open Monday through Sunday, 11 a.m.–4 p.m. It is located at 73-5612 Kauhola St., #7, Kailua-Kona (very near Costco). Phone:  (808) 756-0163.  Parking:  Ample on-site and also street. Casual.

Photo credit: Samuel Sapp

Sushi U. Photo credit: Samuel Sapp

Sushi U. Photo credit: Marla Walters

Sushi U. Photo credit: Marla Walters

Sushi U. Photo credit: Marla Walters

Photo credit: Samuel Sapp

Sushi U. Photo credit: Marla Walters

Sushi U. Photo credit: Marla Walters

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