comscore At Kam Bowl in Kalihi, local favorites live on | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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At Kam Bowl in Kalihi, local favorites live on


    The oxtail soup that originated at Kapiolani Coffee Shop is now served at Kam Bowl in Kalihi.


    Whole fried akule is a popular item at Kam Bowl.

When Kam Bowl closed in 2007 to make way for Walgreens in the Kamehameha Shopping Center — taking Kapiolani Coffee Shop’s famous oxtail soup along with it — people were bereft.

The same sadness swept through regulars of the 49-year-old Kenny’s restaurant when its closure was announced by the founding Fujieki family a year ago.

The Fujiekis and their former nearby competitors found what seemed a win-win solution in November and announced that Kapiolani Coffee Shop founder Gary Mijo and his wife, Liko, would reopen Kam Bowl in the Kenny’s space. Kenny’s owner John Fujieki had been insistent that Kenny’s be succeeded by a local restaurant.

>> 1620 N. School St.
>> Call: 841-0931
>> Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily (last orders 9:30 p.m.)
>> Prices: $1.50 to $17.95
>> Parking: Large lot

The famed oxtail soup served at the old Kam Bowl and its sister restaurant, Asahi Grill, returned to Kalihi, while Kenny’s regulars are still able to get many of their favorites from that menu.

About the business: The soft opening Jan. 27 kicked off a rocky experience, said Liko Mijo. A pre-opening party for contractors the night before spread word about the reopening like wildfire. “The next day we had a full house, until two or three months after the opening,” she said.

Rather than take time to gradually train the staff with a trickle of customers, the owners had to deal with lines that snaked out the door and all the way to Times Supermarket.

The staff often had to announce to those in the long queue that the restaurant had run out of this, that or the other popular dish, setting off protests from customers who had driven all the way from Nanakuli, for example, for the treasured taste.

Things are much smoother now, with the usual peaks and lulls for a restaurant open from breakfast until way past dinner.

“Now we’re used to it. We can give the customer better service and better food,” Mijo said.

What to order: Chinese chicken salad ($11.95) and garlic chicken ($10.95) are among the most popular takeout orders, but so are the oxtail soup ($14.95 large, $12.95 small), the new kalua pork soup ($8.95), whole akule (market price) and the loco moco ($10.95, $8.95) made with an all-beef patty formed in-house. Diners wait a little longer for the patties to cook, she said. “Customers say the taste is worth it.”

With food costs always going up, the famous oxtail soup is a loss-leader for Kam Bowl, Mijo said. At $8.95 with a similar flavor profile, the kalua pork soup has proved popular.

Grab and go: Only about 15 percent of the business is takeout, but orders are taken via phone or in person. In the not-too-distant future, online ordering will be available via the restaurant’s website, which is under construction.

“We are dinosaurs when it comes to computers and new technology,” Mijo laughed, but “a lot of people are asking.” The website should be up and running within a month.

Catering pans also are available with one day’s advance notice, or longer lead time if the order is for 200 or more. Catering orders require a 20 percent deposit, which can be taken via credit card over the phone.

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  • Really? I wish they gave as much as in the picture, not saying that their oxtail soup isn’t good. I think the problem is the quantity given, everyone I talk to says the same thing.

    • Everytime we go, we get about the same amount shown in the bowl. Oxtails cost about $15 a pound at the grocery store, so Kam Bowl’s price for a large is a great deal, especially given the time and labor involved in making the soup. I don’t know about you, but if we’re not cooking at home, we prefer to support local businesses who take care of both their customers and staff. We don’t mind paying fairly not only for cost of supplies, but labor, etc. Otherwise we’d just eat at slop places like McDonald’s or L&L’s all the time.

    • I totally agree with you. From my experience and that of others, the food here is not worth the price. Portions are often an issue for hardworking folks who want value in their expenditure. After all, there are tons of other local restaurants out there. For me, the issue is the prices at Kam Bowl. And I’m not alone on this. Friends of mine also pass on this restaurant when we try to figure out where to treat ourselves. After all, we’re not made of money. To say that the oxtail soup is a loss-leader is a fair exaggeration in my opinion. Yes, I have had that as that is one of the foods they are famous for. The amount of meat that can be found in this soup is not a lot. I make oxtail soup myself and I can do much better price-wise by making it myself. A trip to Costco or even at Foodland or Times when it’s on sale shows that oxtail soup does not have to be expensive to make. Yes, the labor is more intensive as you have to cook it in a pressure cooker to get the tender fall-off-the-bone meat that many of us crave. If in fact it is a loss-leader, then maybe the cost of labor to produce this product is too high. By the way, their hamburger steak is nothing to write home about. And the price for their hamburger steak is also too high for what you get. But then, the trend in local restaurants have been to raise their prices as the cost of raw materials have gone up. But there is a point where it’s just too much. Take, for example, Yummy Korean B-B-Q, that charges about $18 for a kalbi plate lunch. You get four thin pieces of ribs on a huge mound of rice. Of course, you get four sides to go with it. At Costco, you can get the ribs (bigger ones at that) for about a dollar each. So how did Yummy come to the conclusion that their kalbi plate is worth $18? Let me tell you why: because people continue to pay that amount for that dish. It’s like the way people continue to go to their favorite gas station regardless of the other three gas stations (that have lower prices) nearby Kam Shopping Center where Yummy and Kam Bowl are located. A professor at UH pointed out how local people go to their favorite gas station regardless of better prices even across from that gas station. Until we change this habit we will continue to have $18 Yummy kalbi on the menu.

  • “The same sadness swept through regulars of the 49-year-old Kenny’s restaurant when its closure was announced by the founding Fujieki family a year ago.”

    This sadness doesn’t even come close to the grief orgenerations of Kamehameha and Damien grads when the Burgerhouse closed down.

  • I had breakfast there, about a month ago. Hash brown, portuguese sausage and egg. Sorry to say, the hash brown looked like one of those premade frozen ones.
    Not planning to return.

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