A gathering place you can count on
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Sekiya’s Restaurant and Delicatessen is approaching its 80th anniversary as an authentic house of convenient, affordable and freshly made Japanese fare and local comfort foods. One of the most heartwarming achievements that has come from maintaining a successful business for decades on end, is playing home to multiple generations of families who have grown alongside the establishment and have cherished its meals and service as an invaluable part of their community.
At this Kaimuki gem, it’s these loyal patrons’ stories that form the truest testament to the quality of the restaurant. And one such regular, Cory Lee, was kind enough to share 40 years of her treasured memories with Ali Carte.
“I’ve been coming to Sekiya’s since I was 8 years old. I actually grew up on the west side, out at Leeward in Ewa Beach, and my grandmother lived in Waikiki, so she used to pick us up and bring us into town, which was a big treat for us … and this would be our outing with my grandmother, to have lunch at Sekiya’s,” recalls Lee, a home care nurse, owner of Care By Design and mother of two. “That’s why for me, this is not just a place you come and eat, it’s a really nostalgic place and a big, huge memory for me and my childhood.”
Since the era in which her grandparents frequented the restaurant, five generations of Lee’s family have made Sekiya’s part of their lives. Nowadays, Lee dines at the restaurant at least three times a week, whether it be with her own children and grandchildren, with clients for a business meeting, or just by herself in the comfort of a familiar place. “It’s like my home away from home,” she adds.
While sitting in her favorite booth overlooking the Japanese garden, she orders her No. 1 choice, Shrimp Tempura Saimin ($11.95), featuring house-made dashi broth, glorious noodles, char siu and green onion. “This actually was my grandmother’s favorite,” describes Lee. On the side are two light and crispy pieces of shrimp tempura served with daikon-based tempura sauce. “And then, of course, you can’t have saimin without barbecue beef sticks ($2.25 side order)!” she continues.
Lee says she loves to order Hawaiian Style Beef Stew ($11.50) as well, which comes with rice, tsukemono and hot tea. “What I love about Hawaiian beef stew is that it’s not your thick stew, it’s more of a beef vegetable soup, and I love soup.” And on the shop’s fresh fish days, she orders her grandfather’s top pick, Mini Sashimi ($6.95). “Every time I have it, I’m like, ‘Ok, Grampy, this one’s for you,'” she shares tenderly.
Lee points out the consistency of Sekiya’s fare, as much of the menu has remained unchanged over the years. She also speaks highly of the friendly staffers who have watched her loved ones grow up. General manager Lynn Ky, who has worked at the restaurant for more than 20 years, adds that “the customers over here are not like customers, they’re like family. Everybody comes in and you know what they like (and) what corner they like to sit in.”
Ky also notes the restaurant’s okazu, or Japanese delicatessen foods, are as popular as ever, allowing diners to easily pick up fare for any number of diners via set menu combinations, bentos, party trays and customizable offerings.
“You don’t get to see your little customized, homegrown mom ‘n’ pop places anymore, they don’t really exist. Sekiya’s is one of the last few,” concludes Lee. “For us, I would be really heartbroken if this place should ever go.”
Sekiya’s Restaurant and Delicatessen
2746 Kaimuki Ave.
Sunday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-11 p.m.
Delicatessen open 8 a.m.-3 p.m.