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A Slurpin’ Good TIme

Cover Story

August 18, 2019

Story By: Kyle Galdeira | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO

Staff of Shiro’s Saimin Haven at its Ewa Beach location gather to celebrate the iconic eatery’s 50th anniversary.

As Shiro’s Saimin Haven celebrates its momentous 50th Anniversary, multiple generations of local diners can attest that Shiro’s carries on its rich tradition as the first word in saimin.

Shiro’s offers an incredible 64 saimin choices, which run the gamut from traditional to off-the-wall flavor combinations including Wun Tun Min, Kim Chee Saimin, Fried Shrimp Saimin and even Oxtail Saimin with gau gee, vegetables and garnish.

The friendly team at Shiro’s strives to offer tasty local home-style food served with a smile and a “dash of entertainment.” The unique dining experience got its start when Shiro’s served its first bowl of piping-hot saimin in 1969, and Shiro’s Saimin Haven has remained a mainstay for multiple generations of Hawaii families ever since.

Shiro’s Waimalu staff gather for the eatery’s “Big 5-0”

Shiro’s features convenient locations in Aiea at the Waimalu Shopping Center as well as in Ewa Beach, and offers an array of local comfort food from iconic saimin to fried noodles, breakfast items, plate lunches, bentos, sandwiches, and of course, “Burgas,” that are cooked in house. The restaurant was founded by Franz Shiro Matsuo, who eventually acquired the appropriate title of “Mistah Saimin” after following his dream of becoming his own boss and starting the restaurant at age 55 with a desire to provide a place for people to enjoy delicious food and forget about the stress in their lives.

Shiro pursued his passion of elevating the perception of saimin, which was looked down upon as a “lowly snack.” The restauranteur established saimin as a meal in itself and was among the first to introduce vegetables to the traditional noodle-and-broth concept. He continued to raise the bar on saimin at the restaurant, and introduced chicken, roast duck, roast pork and an array of sides and garnishes, and diners kept coming back for more.

A self-taught ukulele player and singer, Shiro was a free-spirited businessman who brought that creativity to the kitchen. He created inventive meals and sandwiches including Yaki Yaki Yakitori Chicken, Chop-a-Long Steak and Shiro’s Original Hula Hula Chicken, which of course, is “Teri-yakking good!” Shiro was also the first to introduce spaghetti noodles to his potato-mac salad recipe, and the concept has been imitated and emulated to this day.

Wun Tun Min with Garnishes (file photo)

While Shiro passed away in 2012, his legacy lives on through the hard work and dedication of his daughter Linda Matsuo, who started working for the business full time in 1984, and assumed the administrative duties in 1990 when Shiro’s wife and business partner Jean passed away. Mistah Saimin’s grandson and Linda’s son, Bryce Fujimoto, grew up in the restaurant business and is currently the catering manager and CEO of operations. After graduating from the University of Hawaii Shidler College of Business, Fujimoto joined the Shiro’s management team in the early 2000s and continues the tradition of his grandfather’s “Dear Hearts” poems, and has added them to Shiro’s website and social media channels. Fujimoto explains that saimin is unique to Hawaii, and is different from traditional Japanese ramen noodles, which are preserved at some point before being added to broth. Shiro’s takes freshness to the next level as it uses noodles made daily at its own Five Star Noodle Factory. Appropriately, Linda’s second son Joshua Lee manages the factory, and oversees the production of Shiro’s noodles, udon and wun tun pi as they’re made fresh. Gavan Lee, Linda’s youngest son, joined the Shiro’s corporation in 2016 and is the co-manager of the Ewa Beach location with Rafaela Capinpin.

Sushi Platter (part of Shiro’s catering menu; file photo)

“Shiro came up with this concept of glorifying saimin because, previously, saimin was just noodles and dashi — it wasn’t really a meal,” Fujimoto explains. “So, he added vegetables, won ton, garnishes and numerous flavor combinations, and now we have 64 types of saimin! We also have a fantastic crew, and some of our employees have been with us for over 40 years. It’s like a big family, and that’s something Shiro wanted in his restaurants: good service and friendly people to make everyone feel comfortable.”

Call on Shiro’s for Catering

Shiro’s Saimin Haven offers a diverse catering menu, which is perfectly suited for any gathering including family get-togethers, special occasions, business functions or tailgate parties. Call 488-8824, visit shiros-saimin.com or email shiroscatering@gmail.com for more information and detailed pricing.

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