Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong picked the grilled cuttlefish. Chai Chaowasaree, the fried rice and fried saimin. Philippe Padovani, the oxtail soup: “Very well done. I could eat it every day.”
The prominent Hawaii chefs recalled their favorites Tuesday in memory of the man who developed them, Colin Nishida, founder of the Side Street Inn restaurants, who died Sunday at age 61.
Nishida only wanted to open a friendly neighborhood bar, he said in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1999. His menu listed just five food items: teri chicken, fried rice, yakisoba, New York steak and a fifth he never could remember. “When we opened, food was free because we couldn’t decide on the price — and it was all friends coming in.”
But that original Side Street Inn — opened on Hopaka Street near Ala Moana Center in 1992 — drew steady patronage from professionals throughout the food industry, including several chefs from high-end restaurants who made it a favorite after-hours spot for eating, drinking and karaoke.
“He created a haven for after work, for all in the restaurant industry,” said Wong, owner of Alan Wong’s in Honolulu. “That’s where the chefs wanted to eat.”
It was Wong who got Nishida on television, a featured spot on “Local Grinds on the Town,” a 1998 Emme Tomimbang special. And from there Side Street’s reputation grew, as everyone from sports enthusiasts to families with children were drawn in by generous portions of fried pork chops, fried rice, chicken gizzards, smoked pork and even the occasional salad.
Television personality Anthony Bourdain filmed part of an episode of “No Reservations” there. Alan Richman of “Man v. Food” visited. Honolulu magazine named Nishida as Restaurateur of the Year in 2017.
“His contribution to the food scene was significant,” Wong said.
Nishida, a graduate of Farrington High School, never studied cooking, but learned from his mother, working in various restaurant jobs before opening the first Side Street. He opened a second restaurant, Fort Street Bar &Grill, closing that around when he opened Side Street Inn on Da Strip in Kapahulu in 2010.
Nishida’s wife, Melissa Nishida, and Side Street Inn issued a statement Tuesday through a publicist, stating only that the family and the business are in mourning.
“While we sincerely appreciate the many heartfelt condolences we have received, we ask that you respect the privacy of Colin’s staff, friends and family during this difficult time,” the statement said.
His friends, though, had much to say about the man and his food.
Wong said Nishida’s menu captured the spirit of “local food,” covering all the ethnic cuisines and all of it well prepared. He didn’t hesitate to pick his favorite: dried ika, or squid — “stink stuff,” he called it, broiled and served with mayonnaise and shoyu.
Side Street is where he takes out-of-town visitors who want a taste of Hawaii, Wong said.
“We’re going to miss his spirit,” he said. “But I’m glad he’s going to have some good rest.”
In 2009 Nishida suffered a life-threatening intestinal infection that brought on multisystem organ failure. He was put under heavy sedation for two months so his body could heal and conserve oxygen.
Nishida recounted his slow recovery in a Star- Bulletin interview in 2010, a process that included chopping vegetables as a form of physical therapy. But he was back at work several months later, opening the Kapahulu restaurant soon afterward.
Tomimbang, now retired from television production, said Nishida was known as a hard worker who was always trying to take care of others, whether customers or friends. “He was so devoted to his people, his workers and the restaurants. … I don’t think he ever took a break to relax.”
Chaowasaree, chef and owner of Chef Chai, also remembered Nishida’s willingness to contribute to various food industry causes. “He was very generous; he was always taking care of everybody else.”
And he clearly knew how to run a restaurant, Chaowasaree said. “Not many people can be that successful for that long. His restaurants are still crazy busy.”
Yamaguchi, owner of the Roy’s restaurant group, said Nishida’s legacy is his restaurants. “The restaurants speak for themselves and they speak for Colin. Side Street will live on and Colin will live on.”
He said Nishida was “a great human being” who enjoyed nothing more than bringing other people together over a meal, a drink or a song. “He wanted us all to have a great time and smile.”
Besides his wife, Nishida is survived by his mother, Kay Nishida, and brother, Derek. Services are pending.