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The Hungry Lion lived large at shopping plaza

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    The Hungry Lion Restaurant was built around the banyan tree in the background. Steve Hirano, left, and his father, Masao Hirano, visited the eatery for one last meal before it closed in 2010. Jessica Chau, who worked there for 10 years, served them.
    Owner Roy Shi­mo­nishi greeted customers.

Last week I wrote about Nuuanu Shopping Plaza, specifically about how it was once the home of Hawaii’s first Chinese millionaire, Chun Afong, and his 16 children, and later Chun Hoon and his 15 children.

Several members of the Chun Hoon family sent me stories and photos that I’ll put in a future column. And coincidentally, they’re having a family reunion in Hawaii next week.

The Nuuanu Shopping Plaza has both the oldest banyan tree and the oldest lychee tree in Hawaii. The state Legislature declared the site historic in 2010.

The plaza has had many interesting tenants. One that many people fondly recall was the Hungry Lion restaurant.

It was founded by Roy Shi­mo­ni­shi, who dreamed of owning a restaurant with a sports theme. Shi­mo­ni­shi wanted the name of the restaurant to incorporate the word "hungry," but he was unsure what the second word should be.

He considered all types of animals, including familiar ones in the islands like the boar or mynah bird, but nothing seemed to fit.

Then, one creature on his list stood out from all the others and made great sense to represent a restaurant: the lion. Lions have ferocious appetites, and the lion is the king of the jungle. It was the obvious choice for Shi­mo­ni­shi’s restaurant, the Hungry Lion, which opened in 1982.

After that, Shimonishi decided to have a lion costume made and hire someone to walk around in it and wave to people. "The lion was the best advertising vehicle the restaurant ever used," Shi­mo­ni­shi said.

Shimonishi built the restaurant around one of the Chinese banyan trees that was planted around 1870 by Chun Afong.

He covered the restaurant’s walls with pictures of the many famous people who dined there, including Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Dan Marino and the entire Dallas Cowboys football team.

Michael Jackson’s agent signed the deal for Jackson to perform in Hawaii over lunch at the Hungry Lion.

The restaurant closed in 2010.

Elsewhere in the shopping plaza is Shinsho Tei, a hole-in-the-wall Japa­nese kara­oke bar that opened in 1988. Owner Fukiko Oshiro named it for a Japa­nese actor-comedian she liked. The place has a pleasant, easygoing atmosphere and is famous for its string beans in a spicy dried-shrimp sauce.

Before statehood, Hawaii seemed to have hundreds of companies with "territorial" in their names. Now we’re down to just a few. The biggest one has a branch at the plaza, Territorial Savings.

It was founded in 1921 as the Kaimuki Building and Loan Association. Today it has 27 branches on four islands and $1.6 billion in assets.

Other tenants:

What do you call the wooden room on a metal ship that houses its electrical equipment? It’s called a radio shack.

Brothers Theodore and Milton Deutschmann opened the first RadioShack Store in 1921. It supplied the needs of radio officers aboard ships as well as amateur radio operators.

The brothers later moved into stereo equipment and introduced the first mass-produced personal computer, the TRS-80. Today they have 7,100 stores and sales of $4.4 billion.

There used to be a TCBY on School Street in a separate little building. One of the banyans grew next to it.

TCBY was founded by Frank and Georgia Hickingbotham in 1981. The story is that Georgia offered Frank frozen, peach-flavored yogurt, which he thought he would not like. He tried it anyway.

"This can’t be yogurt," he exclaimed. The Hickingbothams decided to go into the frozen-yogurt business, opening their first "This Can’t Be Yogurt" store in Little Rock, Ark., in 1981.

TCBY later became "The Country’s Best Yogurt" and has 470 franchised stores in the U.S.

Many other tenants have operated there over the years, such as Huckleberry Farms, Supercuts, Mac Made Easy, Aloha Sushi, Stanley Ito Florist and the Chinese Kitchen.

The newest store is Walgreens, which began as a neighborhood drugstore in Dixon, Ill., in 1901. Charles Walgreen founded it.

I’ll write about their history in a future column. It’s pretty impressive. One of their contributions to modern society was the malted milkshake. Interestingly, they grew by leaps and bounds during Prohibition, selling "medicinal alcohol."

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