Rainbow Drive-In Brings Its Loco Moco and Chili to Kalihi

The iconic Kapahulu drive-in opens its first of four franchise locations this month.

The fried saimin plate is one of the newest menu items at Rainbow Drive-In, which is expanding to Kalihi next month.
Photos: Courtesy of Rainbow Drive-In


The idea that Rainbow Drive-In—particularly its boneless chicken plate with gravy all over and strawberry slush floats—will be even closer to where I live is proof enough I should ditch any ambition to lose weight in 2018.


The iconic drive-in, which opened in Kapahulu in 1961, is opening a second location in Kalihi sometime in February. It’s moving into a 1,445-square-foot space in the site of the former Kamehameha Bakery on the corner of N. School and Houghtailing streets. The rest of the two-story building will house three other eateries: Gyu-Kaku Japanese Barbecue, Aloha Cones and K&K Kitchen.


Outside the two-story building on the corner of N. School and Houghtailing streets. Four restaurants will be located here, with Rainbow Drive-In slated to open in February.


Construction has already started on the new restaurant.


This will be Rainbow’s first foray into franchising, partnering with Ted Davenport, who has experience running Subway, Ruby Tuesday and Gyu-Kaku franchises. The drive-in has expanded in the past, with Rainbow Drive-In Express on Coral Street a decade ago and, more recently, Rainbow Dine-In & Take-Out on Koa Avenue in Waikīkī. Both have since closed.


But this will be a bona fide franchise, run by the master franchisee of Subway Restaurants in Hawai‘i who already has plans to open three more Rainbow Drive-In restaurants in the next five years. Davenport, who’s operating this franchise under the newly formed company Rainbros, is considering sites in Kapolei, Mililani and on Maui.


“We were approached throughout the years but never by someone who had as much extensive experience running a franchise as this group,” says Rainbow’s vice-president Jim Gusukuma. “I have a young staff that’s capable of doing this, and I need to let them grow and expand and spread their wings.”


Back in 2014, Gusukuma brought on local chef Hiroshi Fukui, once the executive chef and partner at the upscale Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas at Waterfront Plaza, as the drive-in’s vice president of dining and facilities, overseeing the menus at Rainbow’s and Hawai‘i’s Favorite Kitchens next door. He’s improved plating, streamlined the kitchen and added new items, including bacon at breakfast, tater tots topped with chili and, most recently, onions rings and a fried saimin plate paired with barbecue beef.


The new location promises the same menu—loco moco, chili, boneless chicken, barbecue pork—as the Kapahulu restaurant.


“We’re not planning on changing anything,” Fukui says. “I believe in the don’t-fix-if-not-broken rule.”


The Kalihi location will, however, sport a self-serve soda machine and kiosk for ordering—both unique to the franchise.


Both Gusukuma and Fukui are somewhat concerned about how franchising will affect business. But they see more positives than negatives in expanding in this way. (Also, there will be more parking in Kalihi—30 stalls—than in Kapahulu, for example. Big plus!)


“This will bring Rainbow’s to the other side of town, spread out our customer base,” Gusukuma says. “I think it will be good for Rainbow’s. It’s a good step in the right direction after being a mom-and-pop for so long. It’s time for Rainbow’s to move forward.”