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All I Ever Wanted Was a Bar

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


(page 3 of 5)

Nishida designed the new Side Street himself, down to the furniture.

Photo: Olivier Koning

The media blast that blew open Side Street’s doors came in 1998, when Emme Tomimbang loaded a limo full of chefs and took them—with a camera crew—to their favorite local hangouts, in an episode of Emme’s Island Moments called “Local Grinds on the Town.”

“I didn’t want to do that show,” says Nishida. “I didn’t want Side Street to be a restaurant. But Alan Wong asked me, so I did.”

As Nishida points out, all the other small restaurants featured in the segment have closed, partly because they simply couldn’t handle the increase in business.

“We were already busy, and we got more busier,” he recalls. “Because Alan Wong ordered pork chops, everybody had to have pork chops. They’d get real snappy about it if it took a while.” For few months, Nishida even put in a two-drink minimum. “I wanted to remind people: This is a bar, you’re supposed to relax, have a drink, talk to your friends.”

What happened next was simple, according to Wong. “Colin evolved. He became a better cook and a better business person.”

“He’s a workaholic anyway,” says Russell Siu. “He just goes all out.”

“I always thought I was a workaholic,” says Nishida’s wife, Mel. “But Colin made me feel really lazy.”

Mel—short for Melissa—met Colin at Oasis right as he was about to open Side Street. She was tending bar at a place called Randy’s near Kāhala Mall, and Nishida started showing up when she was on duty. “One night, he said, You know the trouble with this bar? No chicks here. I said, What about me and the waitress? He said, ‘No, no,’ and took out a package of marshmallow chicks and put it on the bar. That’s when I decided I kinda liked the guy.”

Bon vivant Anthony Bourdain with Nishida.

Photo: Courtesy of Side Street Inn

When Mel talked to her twin sister, she realized that she’d known Nishida in his Damien days. “Back then he was such a punk. I told my sister, ‘I can’t believe I’m going out with him.’ And my sister said, ‘I can’t believe it either.’”

Going out they were, and Nishida had prevailed upon Mel to come help him handle the bar at Side Street. “We finally got married,” says Colin. “It only took 18 years.”

During those 18 years, Side Street doubled its size and increased its work force, which had started with five people, by a factor of 10.

Cheryl DeAngelo, who is now a partner, with her husband, chef Fred DeAngelo, in their North Shore restaurant Ola, came to work as a Side Street bartender in 1995, and became Nishida’s catering manager after four years.


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Honolulu Magazine January 2018
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