ALLEN YUNG YEE KAM / 1928-2005
Wine seller was mentor to many experts
Allen Yung Yee Kam, founder of Vintage Wine Cellar, helped cultivate Hawaii residents' taste for fine wines.
"He was a man who had passion for wine, and that's what I believe drove him to be such a pioneer for us here in Hawaii," said wine expert Chuck Furuya, managing partner of Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar and Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas, Vino (Honolulu and Kapalua) and d.k Steak House.
"If there was no Allen Kam and Vintage Wine Cellar, I don't know if Hawaii would be as far along with wines," said Furuya. "He took it to the people -- the concept of wine -- in a big beer market, and he did it in a quiet and dignified way."
Kam died Sept. 30 at the Queen's Medical Center at age 77.
He founded the Vintage Wine Cellar about 36 years ago in the Makiki Shopping Village and expanded to nine locations but, wanting to maintain quality standards, pared back to one store.
Kam also taught what quality wines to buy and cellar at a time when no one else in Hawaii did, Furuya said.
Over the years, Kam mentored many professionals, including his son, Jay, who gradually took over the family business.
Brian Geiser, sommelier at Chef Mavro, got a job at Vintage Wine Cellar in 1972 when "there were only a couple of places selling nice wine in the state."
Geiser, then 26, had just moved from California, had some knowledge of wines.
Kam "taught me a lot in a very short period of time," Geiser said. "He was certainly ahead of his time."
He recalled that Kam was the first to provide controlled temperature storage for people. Geiser traveled to Europe with Kam, who had developed many contacts and friendships with suppliers and chateau owners in Europe, getting invaluable lessons in the worldwide business of wine.
"It was something being around someone who had encyclopedialike knowledge of wines from all over the world," Geiser said. "He was one of the first mentors that put me in line to learn and experience more and become excited about the business of wine."
Kam learned about wine while attending college in New York, and later expanded that knowledge while traveling extensively with an oil company for which he worked and entertaining clients.
Dorothy Morris, who has worked 24 years as manager and salesclerk for Kam, said he was a very good boss who became a friend.
"He was fair with me," she said. "When I had problems, I could go and talk to him, and he would listen."
She also admired his abilities in the wine business.
"He can see ahead and it does always happen," she said. "Some people have the foresight to look ahead, and I always thought he was one of them."
Kam is survived by wife Cora, son Jay, daughters Karla Kam and Kelly Herz, brother Harold and three grandchildren.
A celebration of life will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Waialae Country Club. No flowers.