"Entrepreneurship is the relentless pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled." - HBS
Born to a family that operated an upscale Japanese restaurant, David Lee was exposed to Japanese cuisine at an early age. Despite his early exposure, David initially sought a career path in engineering but his passion for the restaurant industry led him back to study hospitality management at California State Polytechnic University.
As a testing ground for his new venture as a restaurateur, the first Kabuki Japanese Restaurant began its life in Pasadena, California in 1991, during a time when Japanese cuisine was still outside of the mainstream American dining experience. To make Japanese cuisine appealing and approachable, David strategized and expanded his menu selections, as well as found ways to maintain affordable prices and improved Kabuki's dining ambience. By the year 2000, that single restaurant in Pasadena grew into a multi-unit operation, earning a widespread reputation for offering great value in quality food, service and ambience.
Today, Kabuki operates 17 locations in four states, including Arizona, California, Nevada and Texas. David continues to expand Kabuki with the goal of not only sharing the Kabuki culture to a wider audience and but also with the desire to create opportunities for others.
In 2015, while David was studying at Harvard Business School, he was inspired by the word "Kaizen" which means "Change for the Better" in Japanese. After returning from the school, he founded Kaizen Dining Group (KDG) with the vision to diversify dining concepts beyond the Kabuki brand. Kaizen Dining Group continues to grow Kabuki as its parent company, as well as partners with top chefs to build chef-driven dining concepts like Tengoku Ramen Bar and Pikunico Fried Chicken.
These milestones slowly transitioned David from a successful restaurateur to a restaurant producer whose company created more than 1,200 jobs for people from all walks of life. "My goal is for all of the KDG family to be as happy as I am when I leave home for work every morning," says David, who is equally as dedicated to his guests, "We strive to create an innovative and memorable dining experience with great value… we want every restaurant by KDG to be enjoyable not only for connoisseurs, but for novices as well." His passion and determination to grow KDG into a business that creates "Change for the Better" is larger than ever.
"...nothing succeeds like excess!" - Oscar Wilde
After graduating with a degree in Criminal Justice from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and a four year stint in law enforcement, Luis pursued and obtained an MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. He has focused his career on gaining a broad spectrum of knowledge in business operations as well as all HR disciplines including Benefits Administration, Recruitment, HR Labor Law and Compliance, Employee Relations and Training and Development. 1 part executive, 2 parts nerd, and 3 parts foodie combined creates a Luis who has a genuine concern for the employee experience, professional growth and success, and a profound level of experience in adding new and creative flavors to any recipe. Luis spends his time away from the office exploring new adventures, furthering the boundaries of his palate, and creating memories with his loved ones, including a Russell Terrier rescue named Zsa Zsa.
Executive Corporate Chef
"Life is too short, enjoy every moment" - Self
Chef Masa Kurihara has spent a lifetime perfecting his craft on both saides of the Pacific. Born in Tokyo, Kurihara began his career at age 18, working in a French restaurant?starting as a dishwasher?while attending the prestigious Tokyo Culinary School. His culinary training was classically-oriented exposing him to traditional European techniques which he later combined with his Japanese skills to create innovative Japanese dishes, many of which are featured on Kabuki’s menu today. After getting his first job at Tokyo’s famous Imperial Hotel right after graduation, Chef Masa came to Washington, D.C. in 1976 to work for the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, cooking for formal receptions and banquets. Anxious for sunshine, Chef Masa later moved to the West Coast where he first worked for a Los Angeles catering company and then became the Executive Chef at Yamashiro, the venerable Hollywood restaurant modeled after a Kyoto Palace. His career there lasted for twenty years where his influence transformed Yamashiro into one of L.A.’s favored destinations for authentic Japanese food. As Kaizen Dining Group’s Executive Corporate Chef, Chef Masa currently supervises approximately 300 chefs at 18 different Kabuki locations and is responsible for menu development and training. When not in the kitchen, Chef Masa enjoys golfing and trying out new restaurants in Los Angeles.
"I believe that the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity, is daring to dare." - Maya Angelou
Born and raised in Singapore, Michelle grew up in an international melting pot surrounded by cuisines from all around the world. Her passion for connecting people and their stories with cuisine naturally steered her to the restaurant industry where she has more than four years of marketing experience from launching international restaurant concepts to working with local restaurant owners. While her background is in digital marketing, branding and social media, she also undertakes creative projects in design and photography. Michelle draws inspiration from the outdoors through her frequent camping and scuba diving trips. She is also a proud mother of her rescue dog, Kylo.
VP of Accounting and Finance
"Show me the money!" - Rod Tidwell
Jeff's career with the company spans over a decade when he started as a server at the legacy Kabuki location in 2002. Jeff joined the corporate accounting team in 2005 and played a major roll of expanding Kabuki into the 18-unit operation it is today. His experience heading the accounting department and then the Operations team has armed him with extensive knowledge in restaurant operations and accounting. As the Vice-President of Kaizen Dining Group, Jeff is responsible for developing strategic sales plans to promote growth for the dining group and all of its concepts. When not at his desk, you can find Jeff facilitating team meetings in his neatly ironed pink shirt or learning how to use trendy cell phone applications. During his spare time, Jeff enjoys taking rides with his wife and two young daughters.
Genie S. Alwaili
"Creativity takes courage" - Henri Matisse
Genie is a creative innovator and design expert with more than seventeen years of expertise creating impactful visual brand solutions. Earlier year, Genie has worked with the Disney Studio, Burbank California, as an In-house Graphic Artist. She pursued her career with Kabuki Japanese restaurant’s graphic design department and built experience in corporate branding, package design, publications, and comprehensive menu design. Genie is certified with Adobe Creative Suite.
Director of Operations
"Great things in business are never done by one person. They're done by a team of people." - Steve Jobs
Kevin started his career as a server at Kabuki Burbank (California) in 2005. His vigor and natural ability to connect with people and facilitate team work proved him to be a great asset to the expanding company. In 13 years, he managed countless FOH and BOH teams, turned guests into loyal Kabuki fans and built a reputation for himself as a store level manager in Arizona and Nevada. Kevin joined the corporate team in 2016 and was a key player in launching Kabuki into Texas as a District Manager. With his immense experience, he brings valuable knowledge and insight to the corporate team as the Director of Operations and oversees all FOH and BOH restaurant operations. Besides being a life-time fan of Kabuki, Kevin is also an avid Dodgers fan who never misses a home game.
"Why not? I can do it!" - Self
After living and running a restaurant in Tokyo for 20 years, Rie joined Kaizen Dining Group in 2000 at Kabuki Woodland Hills in California. Rie started as a server and worked her way up to a General Manager before joining the corporate team in 2012 as an Operations Manager. In 2014, Rie transitioned onto the Research and Development Team where she worked closely with Chef Masa to create the Vegetarian Menu and R+D Favorites Menu. In 2016, Rie traveled to Tokyo, Japan where she further pursued her culinary interest in Japanese Fine Dining. Rie now oversees the Back of House Operations Team to ensure that Chef Masa’s ideas are served to our guests consistently and perfectly. When not in the kitchen, Rie enjoys golfing and searching for new and delicious vegetarian dining options.
Anna Lee Salvador
FOH Operations & Guest Relations
"There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up." - John Holmes
Anna has always had a passion for people and the hospitality industry. She first entered Kaizen Dining Group in 2004 at Kabuki Foothill in Pasadena, CA. Since then, Anna has worked as a Host, Food Runner, Server, Floor Manager, and General Manager before joining the corporate team in 2017 as the Front of House Operations Manager and Guest Relations Specialist. With her extensive front of house experience, she brings compassion and expertise to the Operations Team. Anna is responsible for working hands-on with store managers and their front of house teams to ensure that our guests experience excellence in service when dining with us. When not working, Anna enjoys going on adventures with her husband and two dogs - Rookie and Mika.