The Man Behind Shokudo’s Popular Honey Toast
He created Shokudo, Búho and, now, Bread + Butter.
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Editor’s Note: This is one of the restaurants participating in the 11th Annual Restaurant Week Hawai‘i. For seven days, you can take advantage of special dishes, menus, promotions and discounts to showcase local chefs, farms and more with proceeds supporting the Culinary Institute of the Pacific. This year, the event is dedicated to Conrad Nonaka, CIPʻs director who was the driving force behind the programʻs expansion and a key supporter of the local restaurant and food industry. Nonaka died in June at the age of 68.
Click here to read this restaurantʻs menu for the event and more information about Restaurant Week.
Left: Honey toast with strawberry sauce. Right: Hide Sakurai at Shokudo.
Photos: Steve Czerniak
Eight stories above Shokudo, the man who brought honey toast to Hawai‘i searches for his next iconic dish. It irks Hide Sakurai that Búho, the contemporary Mexican restaurant he opened on a Waikīkī rooftop last summer, has yet to find a signature item like Shokudo’s best-selling tower of ice cream, honey and toast. As president of the company that owns both eateries, Sakurai worries the problem like an itch on the brain. It’s an expensive itch: Pre-honey toast, Shokudo lost money its first three years. After Sakurai put it on the menu—in recessionary 2008—honey toast turned the casual-chic eatery into a destination and launched an unbroken string of profits.
“Shokudo is not about great, great food, it’s Japanese comfort food. But there was no magnet, no killer dish. We needed something iconic,” Sakurai says. “Honey toast is comfort food with a gigantic visual impact. If every table has honey toast, people associate it with Shokudo. That kind of killer concept, I haven’t found for Búho.”
The honey toast problem offers a glimpse into the mind of the biggest restaurateur Honolulu’s never heard of. By the middle of 2016, Sakurai will have four, possibly five, restaurants under his belt: Shokudo, the success of which drew the venture capital for the rest; Búho Cocina y Cantina atop the Waikīkī Shopping Plaza; Bread + Butter, a coffee, wine and takeout-food bistro opening next to Shokudo this month; a yet-unthemed space behind Búho; and a slated Leeward location that’s now on hold.
Add to this the fact that Sakurai likes big spaces (Shokudo can seat 206 diners, Búho 283), distinct restaurant concepts tailored for each site, and both the local and tourist markets—and that he’s only 37. Who is Hide Sakurai, and where did he come from?