comscore More eateries enter annals of Oahu diners’ nostalgia | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Business | Rearview Mirror

More eateries enter annals of Oahu diners’ nostalgia

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    After a trip to Las Vegas, the founder named Flamingo restaurants after the hotel.
    Spindrift — the spray from the bow of a ship — inspired the name Spindrifter for the Kahala Mall restaurant chosen because it was simple and uplifting.
  • BRUCE ASATO / 2013
    Glenn Chu named his Indigo Restaurant in downtown Honolulu for his favorite color — and many other reasons. The site is now a Fresh Cafe.
    Jiro Asato, second from left, bought KC Drive-In for $100 in 1934. People mistakenly called him KC, so he changed his name.
    Columbia Inn took its name from Colombian coffee. Founder Tosh Kaneshiro said that good coffee and good restaurants go together.

A couple of longtime Honolulu restaurants closed this month, and I thought I’d write about them and a few other restaurants that are now in our collective “rearview mirror.”

The first was Kenny’s. Kenny Kaneshiro opened Kenny’s Burger House in 1963 in the Kamehameha Shopping Center, with John Fujieki Sr. and Herbert Sousa. It was located where McDonald’s is now.

The Burger House was a success, and two years later they opened Kenny’s Restaurant, serving local food. Former General Manager Warren Matsunaga says the success of the restaurant was because of the staff, many members of which came from the Spencecliff restaurant chain.

“Several have been here 20 to 40 years. Yuri Takai began working in 1965 and retired after 40 years,” says Matsunaga.

Kenny’s Burger House closed in 2003, and McDonald’s took over. Kenny’s Restaurant specialized in fresh fish, serving 12 to 18 different kinds a day.

Kenny’s Restaurant had a Kaneohe location for a dozen years but closed it 15 years ago. Kenny Kaneshiro sold to John Fujieki of Star Markets and went on to manage the Jolly Roger restaurants.


Flamingo restaurant closed this month in Pearl City. The chain was founded by Steven Nagamine, who bought the old Olympic Grill in 1950.

“It was on Ala Moana Boulevard where Restaurant Row is today,” said daughter Sandy Chong. “Dad planned to keep the name, but a funny thing happened. My parents went to Detroit to buy a car with my Uncle Larry Akamine. They bought a big Chrysler and drove it to the West Coast, where it would be shipped to Hawaii.

“They stopped in Las Vegas, and the Flamingo hotel’s logo caught their eye. It was busy and profitable,” Chong continued. “Back in Hawaii, Uncle Larry suggested they change the name of the restaurant to Flamingo’s. It caught on. People liked it right away. The logos were similar, and people asked all the time if we were related,” Chong said.

To promote his new restaurant, Nagamine walked around downtown passing out menus every day for the first month. “Dad was a go-getter,” Chong says.

Perhaps the key to their success was that they sold complete meals, initially for 35 cents. Customers would get a fruit cup, soup or salad, entree, drink and dessert. They also put out a relish tray because “dad loved green onions, carrots and olives.

“We were famous for our double-crusted banana pie. We sent 12 to San Francisco sometime ago, and another (customer) sent one to Arkansas.”

Flamingo moved to Kapiolani Boulevard in 1960. Its owners bought the former Elliott’s Chuck Wagon in 1966. Flamingo restaurants opened in Pearl City in 1981, Kaneohe in 1986, and Waipahu in 1990. Those are now gone.

Kaygi Lee bought Flamingo from the Nagamine family several years ago. Flamingo still has a spot at the Moanalua 99 food court.


Since I’m on the topic of former Hawaii restaurants, a few more come to mind.

Spindrifter took over the former Reuben’s restaurant site at Kahala Mall. It hired a consultant to come up with possible names.

“Spindrift” is the spray that comes off the bow of a ship. Former manager Biff Graper says it was chosen because it was a single word and was uplifting.

An old menu I have lists prime rib for $15, broiled Pacific lobster for $16 and seafood fettuccine for $12.

Spindrifter closed in the late 1990s, and a Barnes & Noble bookstore moved into the site.


Another favorite restaurant of mine downtown was Indigo. They had a fabulous lunch buffet and a great atmosphere.

Indigo is a very dark blue. The owner of this Nuuanu Avenue restaurant, Glenn Chu, said he chose it for many reasons. It was his favorite color, and also the color of the sixth chakra.

Indigo alludes to Indochina, India and Indonesia. The “Ind” in Hindu and all these words comes from the Indus River, which means water or stream.

Chu once owned RoxSan Patisserie, a fine French restaurant in Ward Center, and Hajjibaba’s, the popular Moroccan restaurant in Kahala.

KC Drive-In

KC Drive-In closed 10 years ago. It was Hawaii’s first drive-in in 1929, and the K and C were banker George C. Knapp and Realtor Elwood L. Christensen.

“But, when the depression worsened, they couldn’t make it,” says Dayton Asato. “In 1934 they sold the restaurant to my grandfather Jiro Asato.

“He had been a cook for them, and even though the price was only $100, he couldn’t afford it. They accepted $10 a month until the debt was paid.”

Out of gratitude, Jiro Asato kept the KC name, and when people started calling him KC, he had his name legally changed to KC Jiro Asato.

The original drive-in was where the Landmark Building now stands in Waikiki at Ala Wai Boulevard and Kalakaua Avenue. It moved to the top of Kapahulu Avenue where it kept us well fed with its waffle dogs and ono-ono shakes.

Columbia Inn

Columbia Inn reigned for decades at the “top of da boulevard” where King Street and Kapiolani Boulevard split off.

Brothers Frank and Fred “Tosh” Kaneshiro opened their restaurant on Beretania Street near the present-day Chinese Cultural Center in December 1941.

“The Columbia name sounds patriotic and American, but it came from Colombian coffee bags,” Fred’s son Gene Kaneshiro told me.

“My dad used to say that good coffee and good restaurants go together.”

Bob Sigall, author of the “Companies We Keep” books, looks through his collection of old photos to tell stories each Friday of Hawaii people, places and companies. Email him at

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