Edit ModuleShow Tags

Side Street Inn’s Colin Nishida: All I Ever Wanted Was a Bar

How Colin Nishida, against his will, became the hottest restaurateur in town.


Published:

(page 2 of 5)

Colin Nishida photo provided to HONOLULU Magazine.

NISHIDA AND SIDE STREET MANAGER ALBERT TSURU GRACE THE ORIGINAL SIDE STREET BAR IN THE EARLY '90S.
PHOTO: COURTESY MEL NISHIDA

 

“They gave me a coffee can, a putty knife and showed me what a grease trap was,” he recalls. “That was my introduction to the restaurant business.”

 

Tending bar at the Ala Moana was a step up from cleaning grease traps, but Nishida wasn’t satisfied. “It was a no-brainer, just follow the rules, do the same thing every night.”

 

One job wasn’t enough, anyway. Nights off, he’d tend bar for a friend at Oasis. To fill his days, Nishida, and his business partner, Robert Takemoto, began Take’s Restaurant, a plate-lunch place on an obscure side street near Ala Moana.

 

In ’92, when space opened up in the building, they decided to “take a shot at it,” turning Take’s into a bar. Since they’d been telling everyone they were located on a side street, that became the name.

 

Colin Nishida and Mel photo provided to HONOLULU Magazine.

COLIN NISHIDA AND THEN GIRLFRIEND, NOW WIFE MELISSA, CELEBRATING THE ORIGINAL SIDE STREET'S EXPANSION IN 2004.
PHOTO: COURTESY MEL NISHIDA

 

The original Side Street was, in fact, just a small bar, with only five items on the menu, including noodles, fried rice and a Spam-and-egg sandwich. “I like Spam-and-egg sandwiches,” says Nishida. “Grill it up, quarter it, put it on a plate with some chips, you’re good to go.”

 

The legendary pork chops were an add-on. “We used to get pork chops at the store, cook ’em up for our own lunch,” says Nishida. “Then one of the regulars said, ‘How come you nevah make ’em for us?’”

 

Nishida liked fooling around in Side Street’s tiny kitchen, coming up with new menu items. “A vendor would bring in kalbi and I’d try to make something. If I didn’t like it, I’d dump it and start over,” says Nishida. “Then I’d finally get it right and have to think, ‘What was it I put in it that time?’”

 

“Colin’s not a trained chef, but he’s got that passion for cooking that great chefs have,” says Roy Yamaguchi. “Colin knows what he likes, and, even better, he knows what his guests like.”

 

As Yamaguchi points out, there are more than 100 ways to prepare kalbi. “Colin will capture the kalbi taste that’s perfect for Hawai‘i people, and appealing for Asian visitors and for people from the Mainland.”

 

At any rate, “Colin’s food was great,” Alan Wong testifies.

 

It may have been the food, Nishida’s tendency to buy his friends a drink, or, as Nishida himself insists, that Side Street was so obscure, “nobody’s wife knew where they were.” Somehow the little bar turned into a late-night hangout for Nishida’s friends, and people who became his friends, including many of the top chefs in business.

 

“I think Alan Wong met Roy Yamaguchi for the first time at Side Street,” recalls Dean Okimoto, of Nalo Farms. “I went there because that’s where my ‘Iolani classmates used to drink, but I loved the feel of it, a hole in the wall, so homey. Then I met everyone there, including many of the chefs who became my customers.”

 

 “My friends used to hang at the ‘Ewa end of the bar,” recalls Russell Siu. “I don’t even remember going there to eat, though Colin and I ended up going to Vegas and eating lots of places together.”

 

“Side Street was the perfect way to end the night,” says Wong. “Of course, we were all younger then.”

 

“The table where the chefs sat got infamous,” says Nishida. “We used to drink until 2 a.m. and feel tortured at work the next day.”

 

As word got out, though, Side Street’s days as a secret hangout were numbered.

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Subscribe to Honolulu

Honolulu Magazine November 2018
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Trending

 

9 Greatest Honolulu Homes

Great Homes

Stunning, historic, extraordinary.

 

Can the Mainland Do Poke Right? Do We Want Them To?​

Poke

Martha Cheng, author of The Poke Cookbook and former line, talks about how a New York City publisher decided Hawai‘i’s favorite pūpū was for everybody.

 

50 Essential Hawai‘i Books You Should Read in Your Lifetime

Books

The most iconic, trenchant and irresistible island books, as voted by a panel of literary community luminaries.

 

Everything You Need to Know About Local Fruit in Hawai‘i

Fruit

Fruits are part of our history and culture, a way for us to feel connected to our community.

 

 

A Local’s Guide to Buying Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Sunscreen

Five Hawai‘i brands have created reef-safe sunscreens that are safe for your ʻohana and the ocean. 

Edit ModuleShow Tags