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Getting Better All the Time
Cover Story

Getting Better All the Time

Story By Alana Folen Photos By Leah Friel
January 9 - 15, 2011

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Zippy’s Restaurants is truly a landmark in Hawaii and has been since 1966, when the first McCully location opened under the very capable hands of brothers Charlie and Francis Higa. From the get-go, the siblings’ mission was to create a company that possesses a strong sense of responsibility to the community, a willingness to take risks and a determination to not only create new dishes, but new concepts that would positively impact neighborhoods throughout the state.

Today, the company has 24 locations on Oahu and one in Kahului, Maui, and just as the Beatles were singing back in the ’60s, Zippy’s appears to be getting better all the time.

“I’ve been a lifetime customer of Zippy’s and am now an employee of Zippy’s, and I think Zippy’s has grown along with the state,” says Paul Yokota, president of the company and the man now charged with carrying out its mission.

Yokota, who has been with the company for the past two years, previously served in the hotel industry for three decades — working here on Oahu, the Neighborhood Islands and the Mainland.

“Everything that I’ve learned throughout my career, no matter if it’s been on the Mainland or here at home, is being put to use (at Zippy’s),” he states. “I take my job very seriously and I’m learning something new every day. Here at Zippy’s, we’re in it for the long haul.”

By making a concerted effort to care for its patrons and support local businesses, Zippy’s has laid the foundation for its continued excellence, which now spans over four decades.

  • Paul Yokota
  • The first Zippy's restaurant opened its doors in October of 1966 in McCully. Today, the restaurant has 24 locations on Oahu alone.
  • The Mandarin Orange Salad ($6.50) is served at dine-in restaurants only and comes with orange wedges, toasted-sliced almonds and dried cranberries.
  • Zippy's Loco Moco continues to be a fave of local diners.
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“What sets us apart is that we have such a wide reach and spectrum of customers, and because of that, we have a great level of responsibility to our customers,” Yokota says. “We also want to make sure that we’re supporting local entities and businesses, so we’ve begun using local beef for our burgers as well as supporting Nalo Farms when it comes to our salads, and our eggs come from a local producer as well. Even our saimin is made here locally.”

The restaurant’s ability to endure also can be credited to its diverse menu, he adds.

“If you look at the broadness of our menu, there’s something on it for just about every person and every demographic,” he explains. “The majority of items originate from original Higa family recipes, and there are things on there that can be enjoyed by teenagers, our senior market, young professionals and families. You can come with your own favorites and favorite combinations in mind and you’ll find it all here.”

Currently, “Hawaii’s favorite restaurant” is featuring a few specialty items valued at great prices along with its “Get Lucky 21 Prize Giveaway Promotion” through Feb. 6. These items include the Spaghetti and Chicken Mixed Plate, the Oxtail-style Turkey Neck Soup and the Spam or Portuguese Sausage Omelette Plate. Also available for a limited time is Zippy’s Mandarin Orange Salad, with Nalo Greens, mandarin orange wedges, toasted-sliced almonds, dried cranberries, and a salad vinaigrette dressing for $6.50 at the dine-in restaurant only.

“One of the favorites at our restaurants is our spaghetti and our chicken, so we have a special mixed plate that includes spaghetti with your choice of either meat sauce or chili, which you can have in the variations of vegetarian, beanless or our regular chili,” explains Jay Crisologo, creative specialist for Zippy’s marketing department. The plate ($5.49 fast food counter; $6.49 dine-in restaurant) also includes garlic bread, a piece of the restaurant’s renowned fried chicken and macaroni salad.

Of course, there are more menu items to feast on. “If you like oxtail soup, you’ll love the turkey neck soup as they have similar tastes,” adds Yokota. “It’s basically taking the oxtail soup (which is a local flavor) and replacing the oxtail with turkey neck. This adds a new combination of flavors and is a lot leaner, and perfect for cold weather and for those looking for a value ($4.99 fast food counter; $5.99 dine-in restaurant).

As for the Spam or Portuguese Sausage Omelette Plate ($4.99 fast food counter; $5.99 dine-in restaurant), this breakfast favorite is available at all times at the dine-in restaurants and from 11 p.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the fast food counter, Crisologo says.

  • The Spam or Portuguese Omelette Plate is priced at $4.99 at the fast food counter, $5.99 at the dine-in restaurant.
  • The Oxtail-style Turkey Neck Soup ($4.99/$5.99) is a perfect cold-weather dish.
  • Makiki manager Donna Mina hands a customer a bucket of Zippy's famous chili.
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Coinciding with these valued offers, customers also will receive an entry blank with any purchase to qualify for one of 21 grand prizes, including one of seven trips for two from Honolulu to Las Vegas with accommodations at the California Hotel, courtesy of Vacations-Hawaii; one of seven $777 cash prizes courtesy of American Savings Bank; and one of seven Apple iPads. There also are seven Zippy’s consolation prizes ready to be given to lucky winners as well.

“We want to be the best neighborhood restaurant and food-service company,” Yokota says, crediting the vast amount of local support for the company’s continued success.

“As a neighborhood restaurant, it’s not only about the food, but it’s really about the feeling you get when you step through our doors, just as you would when you step into your mom’s kitchen. It’s also about representing the community that we’re in as well,” he explains.

According to Yokota, each Zippy’s location takes on the appropriate feel of the community while also supporting community organizations like HUGS, Laulima and the Shane Victorino Foundation, to name a few.

“If you go to the Waipahu location, the look of that building is different from what you’ll see if you go to the Waiau location,” Yokota says.

“Waiau is a building that we just renovated, and it’s sitting in an area which was once a plantation field. Waiau itself means ‘rushing waters,’ so at that location we actually have a fountain made out of a well spigot that exemplifies what some of the history of the area used to be,” he continued. “Also, if you look at the architectural design on the outside, you can see that it’s well-lit — serving as a ‘beacon’ for those coming down Kamehameha Highway at night.”

Yes, Yokota describes it perfectly. A beacon — that’s what Zippy’s is — making the lives of Hawaii’s foodies all a little brighter.

“As our customers are getting more involved in taking better care of themselves, you’ll see us changing as well and offering healthier options,” Yokota says. “In essence, we are changing along with our customers.

“We’ll also start converting our packaging to certain recyclable materials. So containers that were used in the past will be replaced with other materials that are more sustainable and ecologically sensitive. And you’ll see that change not only in our entree containers, but also in our Zip Pac containers later on in the year.”

Although times have changed since Zippy’s first opened its doors, one thing remains constant for Yokota and his dedicated team — Zippy’s Restaurants is built upon the perfect blend of delicious cuisine and local values, and that, Yokota hopes, will remain for generations to come.

Zippy’s Restaurants