One of the two nationally recognized chefs who together founded the acclaimed restaurant Senia in Honolulu’s Chinatown has left the restaurant.
The opening of Senia in late 2016 was highly anticipated with local chef Chris Kajioka and British chef Anthony Rush as its co-owners. Success has since followed that anticipation, but just four years after its opening, Kajioka is no longer affiliated with the restaurant.
Kajioka and Rush, both with impressive resumes, met over a decade ago while working at the three-Michelin-star restaurant Per Se, located in New York.
The separation between Kajioka and Senia became legal at the beginning of the year, according to Katherine Nomura, one of Senia’s partners and owners.
Nomura, who is married to Rush, told the Star-Advertiser in an email that they are prohibited legally from commenting on the situation, and only said that it was a mutual decision.
Rush also declined to comment further on the separation.
Kajioka also told the Star-Advertiser in an email that his departure was mutual, and said he had been away from the restaurant since “early 2020” to focus on other projects.
“I left Senia in early 2020 to pursue other opportunities with my longtime best friend and brother Mourad Lahlou,” Kajioka said. “We opened MIRO in June and Papa Kurt’s in November and a Maui restaurant at the (Westin Maui Resort and Spa, Kaanapali) in February.”
Kajioka didn’t attribute his decision to the impacts of the coronavirus, which closed down many restaurants in Hawaii, but said it gave him time to decide where he wanted to take his career.
Kajioka said he’s “very happy” with his situation post-Senia, but said the restaurant will always be special to him.
“Senia was the first restaurant I owned. It will always be my baby, but as time goes on, priorities and goals shift,” he said in an email. “Anthony and I were very fortunate during our time together to find critical success. 2020 was tough on everyone mentally and financially. I am looking forward to what’s ahead. Senia will always be a great place because of the people past and present.”
In May 2020, just three years after Senia’s opening, Rush and Kajioka became, as a team, finalists for the prestigious James Beard Foundation Award for best chef in the Northwest and Pacific region. A winner for the award was supposed to be announced last September, but was put on hold because of the coronavirus.
Prior to the duo’s nomination, no one from Hawaii had been nominated for the award in over a decade, and only three people in the state — Roy Yamaguchi, Alan Wong and George Mavrothalassitis — had ever won the award.
As for changes to Senia, Nomura said its a la carte menu is similar in structure to what it’s always been, but described improvements to its menu and kitchen team.
“I would say the menu has more clarity in its identity and that the kitchen team is better able unify behind a single voice, but that is just my, albeit biased, opinion. The Tasting Menu, which has always been led by Anthony, will return when social distancing is no longer restrictive,” Nomura said in an email. “Anthony and I are unequivocally behind Senia. We always have — and always will — fight for it not only to exist, but to thrive and improve, which it continually has, including this past year. The decision to separate from our former business partner has no bearing on Senia’s (existence).”
Senia reopened for dine-in service on April 22.