Kenny’s Kicks It Up a Notch

Cover Story Features

July 9, 2011

Story By: Dining Out Team |

The next time you make your way to Kalihi, stop by Kamehameha Shopping Center and pay a visit to Kenny’s Restaurant, which has been satisfying Hawaii’s appetites for the past 45 years. Specializing in many local favorites for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Kenny’s not only serves up tasty dishes just like mom used to make, but the staff is like extended ohana — always greeting patrons with a warm smile and hello.

  • Kenny's staff (from left) Donna Aki, Mary Manchester, Erlene Hutchinson, Ernesto Yeban, Rory Sandobal and Kristen Takushi
  • BBQ Beef Tri-Tip ($16.69)
  • Akule ($14.95), served with tsukemono, miso soup and rice
  • Teriyaki Chicken Pizza ($12.50)
  • Kenny's Korean Style Chicken ($11.99)
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Rumor had it that despite the already irresistible favorites to grace the Kenny’s menu, chef Ernesto Yeban and the rest of the staff were working tirelessly on perfecting 15 new items on the menu. Excited to see what all the hype was about, Dining Out met with Yeban himself, longtime employee and assistant manager Erlene Hutchinson, catering manager Martin Corcino and restaurant manager Rory Sandobal, who shared with us exactly what makes Kenny’s a class act — with many delicious surprises in store!

DO: Kenny’s Restaurant opened its doors to the public 45 years ago. What’s the concept behind the restaurant?

Corcino: Here at Kenny’s we provide a combination of local, Japanese and American cuisine. I guess you could say that we’re really known for our fresh island fish that our local fishermen bring in two or three times a week.

Sandobal: Kenny’s has been here since I was a child, and it seems like everyone knows of Kamehameha Shopping Center and Kenny’s Restaurant. This restaurant also brings back a lot of memories for folks, and they reminisce about sharing meals here with their families and loved ones.

DO: So, have you seen generations of families pass through here?

Corcino: Oh yeah, I used to see kids who were below my knees and now they’re way taller than me! We’ve watched a lot of children grow up here, and they’re still eating the same favorites from when they were young.

DO: Yes, Kenny’s is an iconic landmark, not only in Kalihi, but on the island as a whole. What do you think has attributed to much of its success?

Hutchinson: Definitely. The loyal customers that we’ve had all these years have played a big part in our success. Also, the people who work here — we all pull together to make everything a success — without the employees, we’re nothing. It’s a real family atmosphere here, and everyone gets along. It takes a lot of good people to make a good restaurant. The food also has brought everyone in time and time again.

Yeban: Our job is to serve our customers the best that we can, so we always try to provide them with excellent food and service.

DO: Chef Ernesto, please tell us about your culinary background.

Yeban: Well, I guess you would call it “old school” (laughs). I’ve worked with chefs from the Hale Koa and the Outrigger Canoe Club for the last seven years prior to coming to Kenny’s, and I’ve been here for the past 18 years. Here at Kenny’s the local-style of cooking is similar to what I do, and it wasn’t hard for me to continue Kenny’s traditional style of cooking. I’ve also learned a lot from the other managers and employees here at Kenny’s who know a lot about cooking — everyone shares their insights.

DO: Obviously, you and the rest of the staff at Kenny’s must be doing something right. This 110-seat restaurant is always packed. What are some signature favorites here at Kenny’s that have remained constant throughout the years?

Sandobal: Most definitely our Chinese Chicken Salad, Oxtail Soup and Chopped Ribeye Steak.

Yeban: The BBQ Beef Tri-Tip ($16.69) also is very, very popular among our customers, as well as the Kenny’s Korean Style Chicken ($11.99) and Akule ($14.95). The Akule is dipped in salt, pepper and flour, and then grilled, or you also can choose to have it steamed with a nice shoyu and sugar sauce (patrons can request to have it sugar-free as well). The meal is served with miso soup, tsukemono and choice of white or brown rice. Our Korean Boneless Chicken also is very special to us. We specially marinate the chicken, tenderize it, coat it with flour and then deep-fry it. We season it with our specialty kal-bi sauce. Rice and a medley of mixed vegetables completes the dish. It’s important to us that when customers come back to dine they receive the same good food that they know and love. Being that 85 percent of our customer base is return customers, we’re hoping the new menu items will offer them something different to try, as well as help to bring in new customers.

DO: Yes, you folks have been working on revamping the menu and changing it up some. Can you elaborate on this?

Sandobal: We’re taking some items off the menu and adding some new items as well. We’re still sticking with the favorites, but we’re adding entrees that we think the younger generations will really enjoy. We have a great 12-inch Teriyaki Chicken Pizza ($12.50). Our teriyaki sauce is a signature item here at Kenny’s, so on top of our pizza made with fresh mozzarella cheese we have grilled yakitori chicken, white onions and green onions, drizzled with mayonnaise. You wouldn’t believe it, but the mayonnaise really adds to the dish — it really balances out the taste.

Hutchinson: As far as other new menu items go, the Taco Salad and Turkey Cranberry Salad have been selling really well, in addition to our Strawberry Pancakes and Haupia Pancakes.

DO: Kenny’s also is known for its catering. What type of events do you usually cater to?

Corcino: We cater a lot of potlucks, weddings, graduations, even small office parties or luncheons. We’re also in the process of coming out with a new catering menu in the near future. And for an additional charge we’ll deliver to anywhere on the island.

Kenny’s Restaurant

  • Where
    • Kamehameha Shopping Center
    • 1620 North School Street
    • Honolulu, HI 96817
  • Call
    • (808) 841-0931
  • Hours
    • 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.
    • Sunday – Thursday
    • 6 a.m. – 11 p.m.
    • Friday – Saturday