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Kenny's Neo Classics
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Kenny’s Neo Classics

Story By Caroline Wright Photos By Lawrence Tabudlo
March 27 - April 2, 2011

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By adding a fresh set of dishes to its menu, Kenny’s Restaurant aims to attract a new group of regulars to its Kalihi-based operation. When a restaurant has been in business for more than 45 years, change can be difficult.

  • Kenny's cozy interior confines.
  • The Veggie Pizza with Spinach and Tomato ($12.50)
  • Roasted Turkey & Cranberry Salad ($10.25)
  • Flavored Pancakes - peach, chocolate chip and strawberry ($10.25).
  • Chef Ernesto Yeban with the Ewa Sweet Battered Whole Fried Onion ($8.99) and Kim Chee Fried Rice with 2 Eggs ($9.49).
  • Teriyaki Chicken Pizza ($12.50)
  • Taco Salad
  • Sweet Potato French Fries with Honey Mustard or Ranch Dressing ($2.89)
  • French Toast - strawberry ($10.25)
  • Ewa Sweet Battered Whole Fried Onion ($8.99)
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But the team at Kenny’s Restaurant is on the verge of making substantial changes in a number of areas, beginning with its menu.

On a recent weekday morning, owner John Fujieki Jr. and several members of his staff discussed the new dishes they plan to add to the formal menu. The reason for the change is very simple, according to Fujieki. “We’re trying to bring in the younger generation,” he explains.

His daughter Courtney nods from an adjacent stool at the long counter. As a third-generation restaurateur in her 20s, she was tapped, along with manager Rory Sandobal, for an insiders’ understanding of the culinary cravings of the young.

“We’re giving the menu a facelift,” says Sandobal. “New ideas, new foods. We want to keep the ingredients we’re famous for, but change them in a way to attract new people.”

Named for one of its founding partners, Kenny’s Restaurant opened in 1965 at the Kamehameha Shopping Center on North School Street, just off Likelike Highway. John Fujieki Sr., an original owner and co-founder, passed away in July 2001. His son and granddaughter say it’s been a long time since substantial changes were made to the menu.

“We’ve been working on the new dishes for two or three months,” says Fujieki. “We’ve considered everybody’s comments and developed them that way.”

Chef Ernesto Yeban brings the first new dish to table: Teriyaki Chicken Pizza ($12.50). It’s generously sized made with Kenny’s signature teri chicken, smoky and flavorful, with white onions, mozzarella, and a thin ribbon of mayonnaise piped over it. Two other pies — Spinach & Tomato, and Vegetable — will also be available for the same price. Next, Yeban brings a plate of Kim Chee Fried Rice ($9.49): two generous scoops of fried rice, loaded with spicy fermented cabbage, topped with two eggs, any style.

“The younger generations like foods that are spicier and sweeter,” comments general manager Raynell Diggs. “But we’re not trying to change Kenny’s. There’s a reason Kenny’s has been here for 45 years! That’s still the same teriyaki; it’s just been made into a teriyaki pizza.”

Of all the new dishes that have been informally introduced at Kenny’s, reports Yeban, the Kim Chee Fried Rice is the most popular. “I think this one is going to do well also,” he says, pointing at Kenny’s Waldorf Salad, a fresh twist on an old classic. It includes seedless grapes, celery and walnuts, but the apples have been replaced with Bosc pears and chunks of papaya. The revised menu will include four brand-new salads, all priced at $12.25: the Waldorf, the BLT, Taco, and Turkey & Cranberry.

With a flourish, Chef Yeban delivers new breakfast dishes for sampling. The Peach Pancake and the Strawberry Pancake are accompanied by delicious toppings made with fruit, cream, and a bit of honey. Haupia and Chocolate Chip Pancakes are new entries, and Kenny’s famous French Toast, made with huge squares of Hawaiian sweet bread, will now be available in Strawberry and Haupia versions. All are priced at $8.29; toppings are $1.90 extra. Like most of the other items on Kenny’s menu, they’ll be available all day long.

In 2008, Kenny’s Express Hawaiian Barbecue opened in the food court of the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center in Waikiki. The small eatery offers an abbreviated menu of Kenny’s favorites. “It’s our chance to try something a bit smaller, utilizing what’s good over here at our original location,” says Fujieki. “Eventually, when that takes off, we plan to expand.”

Kenny’s Kalihi regulars needn’t worry that they’ll be forgotten. Traditional favorites on the menu will remain, including Chinese Chicken Salad ($10.79), Korean Style Chicken ($11.99), and the extensive fish list, subject to availability. Today’s offerings include Ahi Steak or Ahi Nitsuke ($11.99), Opakapaka Fillet ($16.99) and two whole-fish options: Akule ($14.99) and Menpachi ($19.99). “People come from all over just to eat our fish,” says Diggs. The restaurant will continue to offer a kamaaina discount of 20 percent on its specials, which change every two weeks.

Kenny’s Restaurant is currently open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and open till 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Those hours may be extended after the restaurant secures its liquor license, which Fujieki anticipates will happen within the next four months; he says they’ll emphasize draft beer.

“We’ll also introduce some new appetizers,” adds Diggs proudly. “We’re gonna be here for another 45 years!”

Kenny’s Restaurant

  • Where
    • 1620 North School Street
    • Honolulu, HI 96817
    •  
    • 2201 Kalakaua Avenue
    • Honolulu, HI 96815
  • Call
    • (808) 841-0931 (North School)
    • (808) 922-3333 (Kalakaua)