Traditional Hawaiian Restaurant Highway Inn Keeps Up With the 21st Century
Highway Inn’s third generation tries to figure out how to keep a seven-decade-old restaurant relevant.
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Inside Highway Inn.
Lau lau combo plate
Fried akule or opelu
Pineapple upside down cake
It’s such a life journey, right? In order to do what you do, you have to really know who you are. If you don’t know who you are, you’re going to be all over the place. So part of that process is really understanding, What is Highway Inn? What have we been doing for 66 years? When people come in, I always make it a point to let people know we are a Hawaiian restaurant, we’ve been serving Hawaiian food for 66 years. We built our reputation on our laulau, poi, that type of food. We do some things like fish and chips and creative desserts, but it’s not to take away from who we are, because we’re not trying to morph into something we’re not.
And that’s probably been the biggest challenge for me—how do you preserve your personal identity in an urban neighborhood? How do you take something so old and still stay relevant in the 21st century?
I think that goes back to, whether it’s business or life in general, if you understand who you are and what values are really, truly important to you, evolving is not as difficult as it may appear to be, seem because you know who you are, and you always go back to your roots. We have roots. Things don’t have to be too complicated if you have roots. Maybe that’s what our grandparents tried to teach us. Whether that’s true in terms of cultural identity or whether that’s true in terms of value, like a work ethic.
That’s something I try to teach my staff. But I may come off as being the B-I-T-C-H. I’m like, “Well, I went to this school for bitches, and I graduated summa cum laude.”
Coming into Kakaako was a little like breaking up with someone, dating somebody new and realizing the guy I broke up with was really good. The staff in Waipahu has been with me for a long time—20, 30, 40 years. And you don’t realize how much you take that for granted, because everything is so smooth, because they have that institutional knowledge. We’ve had someone who’s been with us for 45 years. She’s worked with three generations—my grandfather, my father, myself.
I’m really proud of the food that we serve. There are 1.4 million opinions out there, and I make no apologies for the food that we make because we’ve been doing this for so long. It’s not anything that complicated—it’s really simple food. But like any kind of comfort food, it touches the soul. Like a song or a smell, it reminds you of something and it gives you a fond memory. And so when you come to eat our hamburger, you really should experience it like you’re eating your grandmother’s hamburger.
If there is no community to protect and preserve this kind of food, then we won’t have it. There will be no reason for any Hawaiian restaurant to exist. But the community recognizes that it is important and supports us. I’ve been very, very fortunate.
Highway Inn Kakaako, 680 Ala Moana Blvd #105, (808) 954-4955, myhighwayinn.com.