Keeping Tradition Alive
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Waimalu Chop Suey Chinese Restaurant is Chinese in theory, with an abundance of local flair and a bit of American accents surrounding this iconic establishment. Call it historic, but in its almost 50 years of business in Waimalu Shopping Center, this reputable landmark, also known as the “House of Gau Gee,” is often beset by customers feasting on tasty Northern Chinese cuisine that over the years has become a local favorite. At times the Travel Channel will spark your interest between bites, as it plays on the two recently purchased flat-screen TVs mounted in the restaurant, and friendly staff will often catch up on a story or two with a loyal customer.
And while times have changed, Waimalu Chop Suey continues to please patrons with the same culinary experience they’ve known and loved, as the menu and some familiar faces remain the same. However, most recently, one may have noticed a particular change that has taken place: a switch in ownership.
At the start of this month, Jacky Wang has taken on the role of president and owner of Waimalu Chop Suey after previous owners Randy Yim, his older brother Dennis and their mother Violet retired after a 49-year run. In fact, Randy’s late father Mun Cho Yim is the mastermind behind the eatery’s famous “bambucha” gau gee.
“It’s remarkable that one owner was able to stay in business for so long, especially with the downturn of the economy. I hope I can stay here for 50 years as well,” says Wang, who has been in the restaurant industry for the past 15 years, and also currently runs Kin Sing Chinese Fast Food in Waipahu.
Wang, who’s originally from China, set roots in the islands in 1993 with the hope of pursuing a career in sales, but instead quickly obtained a part-time job at a restaurant. With much persistence and dedication, Wang was able to work his way through the ranks from busboy, to server, manager and most recently owner.
“I really enjoy talking to customers, so even though the sales route didn’t work out, I’m still able to do what I love in the restaurant business,” he says.
“I took on the challenge of taking over this restaurant, and this is an exciting, new experience. It’s really important that we respect the previous owner and our customers, and maintain the tradition that has gone on for so long.”
Continuity is key. Glance at the menu and you’ll be overwhelmed with the vast possibilities, but if you’re a longtime customer, you’ll also notice that your favorites are still readily available. Today, head chef Yung Hoy Lee, who has worked in the kitchen for 25 years, is proud to continue to offer the restaurant’s most-requested item.
“Everyone loves the Crispy Gau Gee ($9.25 for eight pieces) and I make 1,000 pieces of gau gee per day,” Lee says with a smile.
The gau gee offered here is quite possibly one of the largest on the island as the crispy outer pi (skin/wrap) is filled with ground pork and hints of vegetables, including cabbage and mushrooms. Customers also can request hot mustard sauce and sweet-sour sauce to pair with this restaurant specialty — and Wang’s favorite indulgence.
“I taste it every day to make sure it’s absolute perfection. I have to make sure it’s at its highest quality — I’m the taste tester,” he says with a laugh.
In addition to the original Crispy Gau Gee, Waimalu Chop Suey also offers Crispy Gau Gee Mein with Vegetables, Crispy Gau Gee with Vegetables, Steamed Gau Gee, Gau Gee Soup and more.
According to Wang, this renowned eatery is now offering an irresistible special in which customers receive a free live Maine lobster with dine-in orders of $50 or more (must present ad found on Page 19). The live Maine lobster can be prepared in various ways — with ginger and green onion, black bean sauce or with salt and pepper.
“The main thing is that we keep the original menu because that’s what customers keep coming back for,” Wang states. “We’ll never take dishes off the menu, but we soon hope to add new items to bring in even more customers. We’re taking things one step at a time.
“Customers rave about our Honey Glazed Walnut Shrimp ($11.25), saying the flavor is really tasty.”
Being that there’s something for every palate here, fans of Waimalu Chop Suey are giving great praise to the Live Dungeness Crab (market price), Seafood with Vegetables ($10.75), Steamed Fish Filet with Ginger and Onion Sauce ($11.50), Salt and Pepper Pork Chops ($9.25) and Combo Fried Rice ($8.50), as well — and that’s simply skimming the tip of the iceberg.
For those on the go, ordering takeout is convenient. Planning a party? Waimalu Chop Suey also caters and delivers (delivery is free of charge for orders of $220 and above).
Looking ahead, Wang is optimistic and hopes to preserve the longevity of the restaurant.
“My primary goal is to keep serving high-quality products with great customer service,” he says. “I won’t give up. I’m only looking forward.”
Waimalu Chop Suey
- Waimalu Shopping Center
- 98-020 Kamehameha Highway
- Aiea, HI 96701
- (808) 488-1616 or (808) 488-9010
- Monday – Thursday
- 10 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
- Friday – Sunday
- 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.