A Whole Lot of Slurping Going On at Shiro’s Saimin HavenCover Story Features
September 9, 2012
Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Leah Friel
Just when you thought saimin was simple, think again. Shiro’s Saimin Haven is a thriving saimin monopoly that has put a spin on your local legendary noodle dish. With its restaurant headquarters in Waimalu Shopping Center in Aiea, Shiro’s has been serving generation after generation the ultimate best in comfort food — everything from its more than 60 noodle combinations to hamburgers, sandwiches, plate lunches and more — Shiro’s has it all.
The man behind the magic, owner and founder Franz Shiro Matsuo, otherwise known as “Mistah Saimin,” died this past May, and although his infectious spirit and bubbly persona may not grace the restaurant each day, his love for saimin and his customers continues to live on through his ohana. Shiro’s Saimin Haven is a family-run business that prides itself on its quality cuisine and customer service.
Dining Out recently paid a visit to the eatery where we caught up with Shiro’s vice president Aaron Lee and catering manager Bryce Fujimoto, who were eager to share Mistah Saimin’s legacy over heaping bowls of delicious, slurp-worthy saimin and other tasty local grinds.
DO: How did Shiro’s Saimin Haven come to be?
Lee: Shiro’s was founded in the early 1970s at the Aiea Bowling Alley by my father-in-law Franz Shiro Matsuo. The restaurant has been in business for more than 40 years and we now have three locations — Waimalu Shopping Center is where our main branch is located, and we also have other locations in Ewa Beach and Waipahu.
DO: What made Shiro want to open a saimin restaurant?
Lee: It was always a dream of his to have his own restaurant. Years ago, Shiro was an instructor at Kapiolani Community College and he always had the yearning to have his own business. At the time, he realized that there wasn’t a restaurant out there that was specializing in saimin and he thought why not go for it.
DO: What is the concept of Shiro’s Saimin Haven? Is there a particular type of saimin that Shiro’s is famous for?
Lee: Shiro’s is based on homestyle cooking, everything your Grandma and Grandpa used to make. We’re known for having a number of different varieties of saimin — we have more than 60 saimin options to choose from on our menu. Shiro liked to say we have more saimin variations than Baskin Robbins has flavors.
Our signature saimin would have to be No. 58, Dodonpa ($9.60 dine-in, $8.65 takeout). Dodonpa is the ultimate king of saimins, bombarded with shrimp, roast beef, char siu, Chinese roast pork, luncheon meat, mushrooms, wun tun, green onions and vegetables. This is one of Shiro’s first creations, and till this day we still have a lot of customers gravitating to this one dish in particular.
Hula Burga Saimin ($7.95 dine-in, $7.45 takeout) is another saimin favorite. It features our home-cooked hamburger and a bowl of wun tun min. We’ll be changing the name to The Ron Mizutani, since this is his favorite and he comes here all the time and orders it.
DO: Besides saimin, what else does Shiro’s offer?
Lee: We also serve a lot of local foods, including Succulent Pork Cutlet with Gravy ($8.95 dine-in, $7.95 take-out). It comes with two choices of starch, be it mashed potatoes, rice or french fries. Our Crispy Pork Belly with Ponzu Sauce ($8.45 dine-in) is a bestseller. It started off as a daily special and people kept requesting it. Now, we can’t even keep up with the orders. People also come here for our sandwiches and breakfast items. We have a great Club House sandwich with onion rings ($9.90), and Fried Rice Omelette with Pork Adobo ($8.30 dine-in, $7.55 takeout) is our most popular breakfast dish by far.
We recently brought in a soft serve machine as well, so now we can make things such as Coke Floats ($2.95) and Tropical Orange Shakes ($3.95).
DO: Shiro passed away in May at the age of 93, but up until then he was still very active in the restaurant. Correct?
Lee: Yes, he would come to the restaurant basically every day. He was a very colorful man — he had a lot of energy. He was always thinking about things to do — even at 93 he had projects that he wanted to accomplish; he wrote poetry as well. Shiro was a real people person, that’s part of the reason he came to the restaurant every day. He loved to mingle with the customers, and many customers got to know him personally and they really miss having him around.
DO: Who runs the business today? Lee: Shiro’s is a family business, so my wife, Linda Matsuo, and I are taking over. We do have a lot of help, my brother-in-law, who is Shiro’s son, also helps and he runs our noodle factory in Kalihi, where we make all the saimin for our restaurants. Bryce Fujimoto, our eldest son, also helps with catering.
DO: Shiro’s also takes care of all of your catering needs, correct?
Lee: Yes. Many people don’t know that we cater, but recently we’ve been taking in a lot of orders and catering has been picking up.
DO: What has contributed to the success of the restaurant all these years?
Lee: I think it’s definitely the variety of foods that we offer and the quality of our food. We do have a lot of personal recipes of Shiro’s, including the soup base for the saimin. Shiro always had a love for food and learned how to cook while he was in the Army. Our customer service also is outstanding. We have some servers who have been with us for more than 30 years.
DO: What are your hopes and dreams for the future of Shiro’s Saimin Haven?
Fujimoto: We want to be here for a long time. There’s a small community who comes here regularly, and we just want to provide a place for them to take a break from the hustle of the daily grind.
Shiro’s Saimin Haven
Waimalu Shopping Center
98-020 Kamehameha Hwy., Aiea
Sunday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-11:30 p.m.