Afterthoughts: 8 Hawai‘i Businesses I Wish We Could Gift to the Mainland
The reactions to Olive Garden coming to Hawai‘i have been pure entertainment for me. On one hand, people are stoked that a restaurant they love on the Mainland (or have never tried but always wanted to because of TV commercials) is finally coming. Unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks! Exciting! But on the other hand, the fact that it’s replacing longtime favorites Bubba Gump and Mai Tai Bar has locals in a frenzy. Where are they supposed to go for $9 Heineken pitchers and live local music ragers? Dozens of commenters filled social media with memories of their college days. The mourning continued—and became more dramatic—when Gordon Biersch and Hooters shut down. So many staples of the scene closing!
But are these places really worth the tears? Bubba Gump has been a fixture at Ala Moana Center since 1999, but it’s a chain restaurant just as much as Olive Garden. Shirokiya has cheaper beer than Mai Tai Bar, which still has another location in Florida (and reopened as the Makai Bar, owned by a local franchisee and run by the same management and staff as Mai Tai’s, with Island music concerts). The argument that new restaurants coming in from the Mainland are taking away opportunities from local businesses is perfectly legit. But some of these chains do buy ingredients from local farms and fisheries, hire local people and give back to the community in other ways.
We at HONOLULU got a lot of flack for sharing a list of 11 Mainland chains we wish would open here, mostly from people who want local businesses to flourish instead (understandable), but also from folks who don’t live here and think it’d be better for locals to just go to the Mainland for an In-N-Out burger. After all, they come here to eat local food, not the same chains they get at home. So sorry the desires of people who live here year-round—and maybe can’t afford to buy a plane ticket every time they crave Swedish meatballs—conflict with what visitors want when they come for two weeks of their lives.
But they have a point. Wouldn’t it be great if Hawai‘i restaurants could become successful enough to not only take over major areas like the top floor of Ala Moana, but the Mainland as well? I did an informal poll around the office to compile a new list: Hawai‘i businesses we wish would flourish, open on the Mainland and allow nonlocals to eat the great things Hawai‘i has to offer without needing a plane ticket. Here are eight of them:
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
Photo: David Croxford / Hawai‘i Magazine
Legit Hawaiian food for the masses.
One word: malassadas.
Matsumoto Shave Ice
Though maybe it would be called Matsumoto Shaved Ice or Matsumoto Snow Cones up there.
The Pig & The Lady
I’ve spent birthdays, dates, goodbyes and girls nights crowded around steaming bowls of pho and soft serve topped with “magic crack” sauce. Never a bad meal, always a good time. It’s already in Japan; why not New York?
Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck
Garlicky shrimp accompanied by two scoops rice is better than shrimp scampi with pasta at any Italian restaurant. Fight me.
OK, logistics might be a problem for a lot of these, but imagine how revolutionary it would be for people to try legit poke.
The Mainland needs to experience the kakimochi crunch with chocolate chips and have its collective mind blown.
Its canned beer is already available on the Mainland, but people should sip it on tap with pork belly bao during a late-night happy hour for the full effect.
Do I enjoy eating local? Yes. Do I also buy food that isn’t local, even when it’s not as fresh or tasty, because it’s cheaper? Yes. The important thing is to have choices. Not all chains are evil mega-corporations. Maybe consider that some of them, like Five Guys and Raising Cane’s, started out with small hardworking teams just like our beloved local companies and grew to be large enough that they get to share what makes them special with the world. Good for them. And good for us. Now, can someone pass the breadsticks?