Mark Noguchi leaving Heeia Pier General Store and Deli

Above: The crew at Heeia Kea Pier General Store and Deli

Mark Noguchi is leaving Heeia Pier General Store and Deli, the seaside shack that garnered local and national press (Travel and Leisure, Cooking Channel, Food Network, to name a few) in the year that Noguchi and business partner Russ Inouye took over.

When HONOLULU Magazine featured Heeia Pier General Store a year ago, we wrote:

'''Some people are already calling it Gooch’s place,' [Noguchi] says, with a faraway look in his eye. In an era of short-lived eateries, it might even be Gooch’s place for another generation: his lease runs for 35 years."

But while "I never expected to leave so soon," Noguchi says, "the Pier is ready for another direction in the kitchen." He's moving on to start a food business called Pili (Hawaiian for "to be intertwined, connected"), based on three core values: community, education and food. He will be catering, consulting, and hopefully sometime down the line, working in a restaurant of his own again.

Inouye will continue to run the Heeia Pier General Store, though he isn't ready to announce the new chef. He plans on keeping the menu mostly intact—like the guava chicken, Kuahiwi hamburger, fresh fish, oio—but wants to "bring the community back to the Pier," Inouye says. "We realized after a year, the Pier is a destination spot for Mainland people coming in … but we're losing a lot of the local clientele from Kaneohe to Kahaluu." He says the locals missed the old dishes, not to mention the lower price point.

When Inouye and Noguchi took over, they made a conscious effort to source locally, which drove up the prices a few dollars per plate. "We thought we could teach the community that it was important to keep the money in the islands," Inouye says. According to him, though, they just stopped coming.

"We need to find a balance," he says. He's not going to resort to frozen fish nor throw out all the dishes that attracted media attention. Instead, he plans to supplement the current offerings by adding a kids' menu, an expanded breakfast menu, and some cheap and quick dishes for around $5. He wants "Auntie Mimi and Auntie Sharon," who ran Heeia Pier General Store for the 30 years previous, to consult on recipes, "to bring back the nostalgia of the classic dishes."

This week is Noguchi's last week at the Pier. While both he and Inouye still have a common interest in community, their paths are diverging. I'm interested in seeing how the future for both unfolds.