A Long LegacyCover Story
October 7, 2018
Story By: Ellise Kakazu | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo
Shiro’s Saimin Haven is late founder, Franz Shiro Matsuo’s, dream come true. And like any vision turned reality, it required hard work, dedication and a bit of a wild imagination to make it happen.
Rewinding the clock to year 1942, before Matsuo’s dream even existed, you will find a young man being drafted into the Army during World War II. It was not by any means Matsuo’s plan to be in the military, but, as fate would prove, it was meant to be. During his time in the Army, Matsuo harnessed a passion for food, as he served as latrine orderly, cook assistant and personal cook for a colonel.
While the war ended in 1945, Matsuo’s newfound love for creating food did not. Seeking to sharpen his skills and open his own restaurant, Matsuo jumped from job to job to learn the ins and outs of cooking and the restaurant business — he even cooked for Gov. John A. Burns and also flew to Japan to learn the art of creating sushi and making noodles.
Eventually, Matsuo decided to take noodles and bring them to new heights by opening his first restaurant in 1969. Using his own noodle, Shiro’s eventually created 58 versions of saimin featuring chicken, pork, beef, seafood and more, single-handedly turning saimin from a snack to a meal.
Here we are decades later and Shiro’s Saimin Haven still can be found churning out countless bowls of hot noodles and more. In fact, in order to keep up with the demand, the iconic restaurant now has two locations on island (Waimalu and Ewa Beach) and has its own noodle factory.
“Saimin is like a comfort food for everybody,” notes restaurant manager Sheena Arca-Gonzales.
Shiro’s current menu features all of Matsuo’s creations, but it also contains a few new options like Miso Ono Clam Saimin ($11.25). This bowl arrives to the table filled with a savory miso and clam broth, wun tun, garnishes, vegetables, noodles and a handful of clams. According to Arca-Gonzales, Miso Ono Clam Saimin was invented by Matsuo’s grandson Bryce Fujimoto, who also is the company’s vice president.
Besides the restaurant’s saimin, one can find many classic local-style favorites like Lau Lau with “Local Boy” Beef Stew ($11.95), which comes with made in-house lau lau containing pork and fish, and a bowl of beef stew consisting of carrots, celery, potatoes and chunks of beef, along with two scoops of rice and corn.
“We make batches of it (lau lau), and we still sell out,” notes Arca-Gonzales.
Another crowd-pleaser is Loko Moko ($9.25), featuring a yummy hamburger patty made from grass-fed Big Island beef. “We’re a local restaurant, we want to support local,” explains Arca-Gonzales. The quality of the patty is undeniable and according to Acra-Gonzales, “When you eat it, it just melts in your mouth.” In addition to the patty, the plate comes with two eggs, rice and house-made gravy.
Shiro’s Original “Homemade” Corn Beef Hash ($8.85, only available during breakfast hours) is a great way to start one’s day. The hearty hash is filled with potatoes, onions and corn beef. “You can taste the corn beef … it’s not just a lot of potatoes and onions,” says Arca-Gonzales.
The meal also arrives with scrambled eggs flavored with dashi, shoyu and green onions and two scoops of rice.
Customers can “gravy it up” with Shiro’s Hot Roast Beef Sandwich ($8.70), which showcases slices of tender, roasted meat that have been marinated in special seasonings for several hours and topped with Shiro’s tasty gravy. Along with the open-faced sandwich, customers can enjoy mashed potatoes and corn.
With its soul-satisfying food, captivating story and affordable prices, Shiro’s Saimin Haven surely will be around for a very long time.
Food FOr Thought
While dining at Shiro’s Saimin Haven, customers can soak in all of founder Franz Shiro Matsuo’s words of wisdom. Matsuo’s “Dear Hearts” poems are lined on the restaurant’s walls, providing inspirational, insightful advice Greatestife.
The Gratest Saimin Showman
Shiro’s Saimin Haven founder Franz Shiro Matsuo was an entertainer. Matsuo would often dress up, strum his ukulele and sing tunes for his customers. According to restaurant manager Sheena Arca-Gonzales, Matsuo established a deep connection with many of his visitors and believes Shiro’s success is partly due to his lively, unique personality.