Colin Nishida says he’s starting to slow down.
He only spends 60 hours a week at work now. And that’s a short week.
“What I used to work and what I’m working now,” says the chef/owner of Side Street Inn, a popular pau hana sports bar with two locations in Honolulu, “I pretty much cut down a lot.”
His short week is still longer than most people spend at their day jobs. And it’s this kind of hard work, Nishida says, that has made Side Street Inn so successful.
“It’s a hard job,” he says, humbly, “and the only thing I can say is we work hard.”
With no formal training—and a distaste for the title of chef—Nishida opened Side Street Inn 22 years ago in a tiny space on Hopaka Street near Ala Moana Center. It quickly became known for its home-cooked, local-style pūpū and shareable plates that lured foodies, late-night prowlers and award-winning chefs to this hole-in-the-wall karaoke bar after work. He expanded the space, nearly quadrupling its size, then opened a second location on Kapahulu Avenue in 2009.
Side Street Inn has been featured in Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” show on the Travel Channel and in national publications such as Saveur, Travel + Leisure and the Los Angeles Times. Since 1992, it has received numerous awards such as the Ilima Award and Hale Aina Award for Best Bar and Best Pupu.
Credit the food, particularly the restaurant’s popular pan-fried island pork chops, daily fish specials, and its award-winning fried rice with generous portions of char siu, Portuguese sausage, bacon, peas and carrots.
And the setting helps, too. It’s unpretentious and inviting, with a full bar that boasts a variety of domestic and imported beers—including the restaurant’s own signature Side Street Inn Rogue Ale—and a nice selection
It’s all about sharing here.
“It’s family-style here, so you can order one dish and share it,” Nishida says. “Everybody is comfortable.”
Not just anyone can call a James Beard award-winning chef in the midst of preparing dinner and ask how to make a quick salad dressing.
But veteran broadcaster and beloved media personality Emme Tomimbang has that kind of cred with Hawaii’s top chefs.
“I was stuck trying to cook dinner and I didn’t have salad dressing, so I called Alan Wong,” Tomimbang says, laughing. “He told me to mix vinegar and olive oil and a little bit of lemon and you’ve got salad dressing. We hung up and my husband said to me, ‘Who can call a chef and interrupt him during dinner and say you’ve got an emergency?’”
With more than three decades of media experience and a successful production company that’s created award-winning specials, in-flight videos and documentaries, Tomimbang has worked with some of Hawaii’s most notables, from politicians to musicians, from chefs to the entire cast of both incarnations of Hawaii Five-0. She has shared Hawaii with the world through her rich and provocative storytelling on the popular one-hour TV series, “Emme’s Island Moment.”
For years, she has told the stories of Hawaii’s restaurants and chefs, shining a light on the Hawaii Regional Cuisine and its impact on the Islands. In 1995 she featured locally born and raised chefs like Wong, Sam Choy and Russell Siu, taking cameras into their kitchens and homes. Then, in 1998, her popular show, “Local Grinds on the Town,” showcased the mom-and-pop places where Hawaii’s top chefs like to eat. (HRA’s inductee Side Street Inn was Wong’s pick.) And, in 2002, she produced and aired an hour-long special showcasing the HRC founders on the movement’s 10th anniversary that solidified her influential spot in the industry.
“I think I’ve helped bring their stories—of who they were as people first, then as chefs—to the public,” Tomimbang says. “I’d like to think I gave TV audiences … the life behind the chef, their values, vision, culinary expertise and how to make food and wine something inclusive to all.”
For the 46 years they’ve been married, Tsutao and Harriet Morioka never traveled together.
Until this year, when the couple, founders of the popular breakfast spot Dani’s Restaurant in Lihue, Kauai, finally retired. They went on a 12-day tour of Japan—something that was impossible when they ran the restaurant the past 31 years.
“Now we don’t have to wake up early anymore,” says, Harriet, 70, laughing. “Now I can relax.”
Truth is, Harriet still goes into the restaurant she started with her husband back in 1982. She just doesn’t have to be there at 3:30 a.m. anymore.
Their youngest son, Danny—the restaurant is named after him, but “Danny’s” was too close to “Denny’s,” so they adjusted the name—took over the restaurant in February and their oldest daughter, Naomi, still waits tables. (Their youngest daughter, Mae, lives in Virginia with her husband.)
When they were working, Tsutao would get up at 2:30 a.m. and head to the restaurant, where he would stoke the cooking fire and start prepping for breakfast service. Harriet would soon follow, helping with the prep work and getting the restaurant ready to open at 5 a.m. She would wait tables, help in the kitchen and tend the register—a self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades.
The Moriokas have built a reputation on two things: great local food—like their popular tripe and beef stew, loco moco and blueberry hotcakes—and the kind of personal, sincere service that makes you want to come back again.
“We made a lot of new friends,” Harriet says.
Tsutao and Harriet wed in 1967 and started Dani’s Restaurant after working at the popular Ma’s Place, which was owned by Harriet’s mother. When Ma’s Place closed four years ago, many of those regulars moved to Dani’s.
Harriet says she’s surprised by the honor of being inducted into the Hawaii Restaurant Association’s Hall of Fame. But she credits loyal customers and prayers from their church for their success.
Now, they just want to enjoy life.
“It’s a hard job,” Harriet says. “But now, I don’t have to wake up early.”
Every morning, at about 4 a.m., Dennis Honda arrives at the humble tofu factory on Mango Street in Wahiawa.
Donning rubber boots and an apron, he starts the laborious process of making tofu, from grinding the soy beans that have been soaked overnight to pressing the finished product in a rectangular mold.
His wife, Dulcie, arrives soon after, getting orders ready for delivery around the island.
They continue the process, then clean up and pack, until about 6 p.m., sometimes as late as 8, and head home, only to start it all over again the next day.
“I didn’t realize how much labor it was,” admits Dulcie, 61, laughing.
Honda Tofu in Wahiawa may be the oldest tofu producer in the country, tracing its origins back to 1917 when Eizo and Tsuyo Honda began making fresh tofu in a small factory on King Street. When that burned down in the late ‘40s, the family moved the business to Wahiawā, where it remains today.
Nine decades and three generations later, Dennis, Eizo’s grandson, continues the family tradition of creating handmade artisanal tofu.
It wasn’t his original plan, though. He was working at the state legislature when his father, Haruo, was in an accident in 1976. He was delivering tofu in his yellow Jeep when a teenager ran a stop sign and hit him broadside. After that, he couldn’t handle the physical work of the job and Dennis and Dulcie stepped in.
“We hated to see this business go down,” Dulcie says. “It had been around so long. I told Dennis, ‘Let’s try.’”
“And we’re still trying,” says Dennis, laughing.
Honda Tofu is one of the last remaining tofu factories in Hawaii. The family produces about 800 to more than 1,000 blocks of bean curd every day, six days a week. Their customers include Costco, Alan Wong’s, The Pineapple Room, Imanas Tei, Kabuki Restaurants and several Korean restaurants around the island.
Though Dennis’ father passed away in 2006, his mom, Josephine, a fixture in Wahiawa, still works at the factory, helping customers and even going on short deliveries. She’ll be 92 in January.
“The thing we like about it is this is truly a family business,” Dulcie says. “Everybody gets involved.”
All three grandsons have worked in the factory at some point. And whenever they need help, the whole family pitches in, from helping make tofu to delivering blocks to the company’s loyal customers.
But neither Dennis nor Dulcie will take credit for the company’s success and longevity.
“We have been successful because of my grandfather who started this,” Dennis says. “If I were to have started this yesterday, I would be just another tofu company. It’s not us but really our heritage.”
Every month for the company’s lunchtime safety meetings, David “Buddy” Nobriga cooks.
Sometimes it’s Portuguese cabbage soup, other times it’s chicken hekka. But it’s the stew the 72 employees of Maui Soda & Ice Works in Wailuku go crazy for.
“Boy, I tell you, they go back for thirds and fourths,” says his son, Michael, laughing. “He makes good chili and spaghetti, too.”
This is the family-style way Nobriga runs Maui Soda & Ice Works, one of only several dozen independent Coca-Cola bottlers and distributors left in the U.S. The company, which also manufactures Roselani Ice Cream, celebrates its 125th anniversary this year.
“We treat all of our employees as members of the Nobriga family,” says Michael, the company’s president and general manager. “We foster that family attitude and family cohesiveness in everything that we do.”
The Nobrigas actually turned Maui Soda & Ice Works into a family business.
In 1888, a forward-thinking entrepreneur named George French founded the company in Kahului Harbor. Two years later, when the town was burned to eradicate the plague, the plant moved to its present location in Wailuku where it was later taken over by the Wadsworth family.
In 1922, Manuel Nobriga got a job with Maui Soda & Ice Works delivering ice to Kahului homes from a horse and wagon. He later became company manager then, in 1947, bought it from the Wadsworths. Manuel started Maui’s original ice cream first known as Dairymen’s.
In 1941, Manuel’s son, David, started working for the company. And when his father retired in 1971, he became president, launching Roselani Ice Cream using the family’s time-tested recipes. His daughter, Cathy, handles that side of the business. And, after he retired in 1998, his son, Michael, took over as president of the company.
Buddy, who has eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild, has found time to support various community organizations including the Maui County Fair, which he’s been a part of since 1945, and the West Maui Soil & Conservation District, for which he served as chair for 50 years. This group was responsible for creating the Honolua watershed, which protects the Nāpili area from flooding, and for cleaning up the ocean in the Kahana area. He was one of four people in the Pacific Islands recognized as environmental heroes by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Buddy’s concern for and commitment to his community is part of the company’s philosophy.
“We are our community,” Michael says. “Whatever happens on this island—fundraising, community service—somebody from our organization is there.”
All five of Buddy’s children are involved in the company. He still serves as chairman of the board, coming to work every morning—his children like to point out he still has the biggest desk—and acting as the guiding force for the company.
“My dad is the best person you could ever ask to work for,” Michael says. “He’s demanding and extremely passionate about the business and the community. He’s a teacher, he’s a mentor—and he’s the best cook in the whole world.”
The only job Victor Lim could get while finishing up his MBA at the University of Hawaii was at McDonald’s.
It was the only company that would work around his class schedule and give him management experience at the same time.
That was in September 1974 and Lim has been with the global fast-food giant ever since.
He spent 14 years working for McDonald’s, based both in Hawaii and Southern California. He spent the last three of those years overseeing the chain’s Asia
Then, in 1987, he decided he wanted to live in Hawaii permanently and bought his first franchise on Fort Street Mall. He now owns and operates five more locations—Ala Moana Center, Enchanted Lakes, Discovery Bay, Kailua and Waimānalo—each with its own unique challenges. And if there’s anything Lim loves—besides a Filet-O-Fish sandwich—it’s a challenge.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Lim, 61, a franchise owner and operator. “In this business, you either love it or hate it. There’s no in between. And I love it.”
Lim enjoys interacting with people, from customers to employees, and revels in the fast-pace atmosphere of restaurants. And he loves the challenges restaurants bring, from finding cost-effective energy solutions to lobbying for other businesses on behalf of the Hawaii Restaurant Association.
In fact, he credits his passion for the business as one of the keys to his success.
“I love this business and all of its challenges,” he says.
Lim was born in Rangoon, Burma, grew up in Thailand, and moved to Hawaii in 1969 to attend UH. Throughout his career, Lim has been active in various organizations, from the Fort Street Mall Business Improvement District to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. He was inducted in the Shidler College of Business Hall of Honor at UH in 2009 and received both the 2012 Model Chinese Father and 2008 Chinese Citizen of the Year awards from the United Chinese Society of Hawaii. He also earned the Small Business of Hawaii’s 2008 Civic Leader Award.
To say Lim is busy would be an understatement. But he doesn’t mind being busy at all.
“The challenge is tremendous, but it’s so enjoyable,” he says. “There’s no chance to get bored.”
Talk about irony.
Right after graduating from high school in Southern California, Randy Schoch moved to Oahu for college and applied for a job as a bus boy at Nick’s Fishmarket in Waikiki. The restaurant didn’t hire him.
Five years later, though, Schoch, who was hired by the popular seafood restaurant two years later as its general manager, wound up buying it.
“I love telling that story,” says Schoch, 56. “They wouldn’t hire me as a bus boy and who would have known five years later I’d own it.”
Most non-industry people may not know Schoch or his company, Desert Island Restaurants, but they, no doubt, have heard of the brands.
In 1998 he opened the chic Black Orchid restaurant and nightclub at Restaurant Row, which garnered national acclaim and achieved record sales. In 1994, he acquired the Ruth’s Chris Steak House franchise for the state. A year later he started Desert Island Restaurants, a restaurant management company, to bring Hawaii concepts to the Mainland market and Mainland restaurants to the Islands. He helped open the award-winning Roy’s Restaurant in California and Arizona and brought the popular Romano’s Macaroni Grill to O‘ahu and the Big Island.
“I decided about 20 years ago that I wanted to work with and partner with really good people and brands and help them grow,” Schoch says. “We have worked really hard to secure really good products.”
He wound up selling his three Roy’s Pacific Rim Cuisine restaurants to Outback Steakhouse in 2002, but he continues to own five successful Ruth’s Chris Steak Houses on three islands and both Romano’s Macaroni Grill restaurants. Ruth’s Chris in Waikīkī is the highest grossing restaurant in the franchise in the world; the two Romano’s Macaroni Grills—one in Ala Moana Center, the other at the Waikoloa Beach Resort on the Big Island—are among the highest grossing in the nation.
The company, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., boasts about 500 employees. Schoch splits his time between Arizona, where he lives with his wife and two kids, and Hawaii, where he’s active with various organizations including Chaminade University. (He sits on the Board of Governors.)
He enjoys working with people he really admires and seeing his influence on the restaurant industry in the Islands.
“I’m so proud of seeing guys come out of our ranks and manage or own their own restaurants,” Schoch says. “That’s a great feeling. I love seeing them succeed.”
William Kimi Jr., better known as Uncle Billy, has done it all. Literally.
He’s run a car hop and taxi dance hall in Hilo, worked as a pig farmer, owned a malt shop in Waimea where he served his own brand of ice cream, opened a family-style burger joint on Maui, built houses in ‘Āina Haina, and operated a war surplus store on O‘ahu.
But he’s best known for a pair of affordable, local-style boutique hotels in Hilo and Kona.
Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel opened in 1964, built by Kimi himself. (He’s the brother of hotel industry pioneer Richard Kimi, who built Hukilau and Seaside hotels on three islands.) He had leased the 2.5-acre plot on Banyan Drive a couple of years after the 1960 tsunami that destroyed much of Hilo town. Sixty-one people died and more than 500 homes and businesses were destroyed or severely damaged. At that time, Banyan Drive, which hugs Hilo Bay, was zoned for residential homes. After the tsunami, however, the county rezoned the area and sold leases to businesses. Kimi seized that opportunity and built his first hotel.
“He always says the main reason he opened the hotel was so his kids could have jobs,” says Aaron Whiting, 38, son of Kimi’s daughter, Sandy Yokomizo and reservations manager at the hotel. “The tourism industry was just starting in Hilo and the jetliners were arriving. He never knew anything about hotels, but he thought it was a good idea for Hilo. He’s a businessman. He took a chance.”
Over the years, the hotel grew to the 145 rooms it has now. The hotel’s restaurant, Uncle Billy’s Restaurant, hosted live music every night until it closed in 2011. (The restaurant space is subleased to another restaurateur.) In its heyday in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, hundreds of people would pack into the small restaurant to enjoy the live entertainment.
Then, in 1979, Kimi expanded to Kona, purchasing the Kona Inn Shopping Village and the hotel that came with it.
In the meantime, he never gave up on restaurants. From the time he started Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel, Kimi also ran Kimo’s Steak and Seafood Restaurant, Hurricane Annie’s, Fisherman’s Landings and Hang Loose Bruddah Bar & Grill, all in Kona.
His success, Whiting says, comes from his grandfather’s work ethic and business sense.
“Hard work and dedication,” Whiting says. “And he takes risks. And the risks have rewarded him.”
Now 91, Kimi hasn’t slowed down at all. On any given day, he’s at one of his hotels or buying coffee for a boutique coffee store—Keoki’s Surfin Ass Coffee—on Ali‘i Drive in Kona. “He’s still the boss,” Whiting says, laughing.
And Kimi embodies the vision he set out for his hotels, Whiting adds.
“He’s friendly and definitely a master of the aloha spirit,” he says. “When you think about the aloha spirit, that’s who I think of.”