The Man Behind Shokudo’s Popular Honey Toast
He created Shokudo, Búho and, now, Bread + Butter.
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Búho’s outdoor dining area offers distinctive design—and plenty of space at the bar.
Photo: Steve Czerniak
When Sakurai considers a new restaurant, he always starts with the neighborhood. From a global perspective, Hawai‘i was a neighborhood—and it was a good one. Other restaurants the trio started in California ended up closing, so Sakurai looked for expansion closer to Shokudo, which is thronged from lunch to late night with twenty- and thirty-somethings who, still living at home and not yet saddled with mortgages and tuition, were spending their disposable income on the restaurant’s sushi pizza, balsamic beef sushi and saketinis.
Búho was a different story. The undeveloped 12,300-square-foot rooftop in Waikīkī was massive. Sakurai looked at Cheesecake Factory and Yard House, nearby and similarly large: They were packed, mainly with American tourists drawn to American comfort-food staples. Sakurai’s solution was lifted neatly from a trend he saw on the West Coast, home of one of Waikīkī’s biggest sources of tourists: high-end contemporary Mexican fare featuring local ingredients. But tucked high above Kalākaua Avenue and with higher prices, Búho has yet to find its groove.
Bread + Butter fell into Sakurai’s lap. Offered the space when Japanese spaghetti house Angelo Pietro ended its long run, Sakurai looked for a concept that wouldn’t compete with Shokudo next door. “I asked bankers, ‘Where do you grab coffee?’ They said the small kiosk by Pan Am Building,” he says. “All the banks and language-school students are around this area. Within a 1-mile radius, a lot of people live alone—which tells me they have not enough time to cook, no motivation to cook or don’t know how to cook.”
Slated to open this month, Sakurai’s third Honolulu restaurant will offer healthier grab-and-go lunch fare, and an espresso bar and coffee program designed by Honolulu Coffee Co. founder Ray Suiter Jr. After 5 p.m., there’ll be artisan pizzas, appetizers and desserts. And fresh bread, of course.
Then there’s that 10,000-square-foot space behind Búho and the one he’s waiting for in Leeward, tentatively planned as a Shokudo 2.0. And then? “Five, done,” he says. “My vision for the company is five restaurants and $20 million annually by 2016. We’re going to focus on five, maintain, brush up every year and build the brand. Then we should have enough so we can challenge ourselves to do something else—go to the Mainland, a different country, maybe a franchise business.
“I’m only 37,” he points out. “I don’t want to get bored.”
Right. Sakurai is picking his way through the construction site that will be Bread + Butter. This is his tiniest restaurant—only 50 seats—and, maybe, because of this, he’s gleeful about particular touches. He stretches his arms across the windows fronting Kapi‘olani Boulevard. “The ‘Bread + Butter’ sign will go here. And every night? At 5 p.m.? We’ll add a sign that says, ‘and Wine.’” He grins and gestures toward a nook. “That’s for our pinot bar,” he says. A pinot bar? “Pinot noir and pinot grigio,” he explains, “because I like pinot.”
Quirky? Definitely—and completely in character for the man who brought us honey toast.