An Amazing Journey, A Lasting LegacyCover Story Features
April 14, 2013
Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Leah Friel
It all started back in December 1992 in a small hole-in-the-wall eatery on North School Street with savory morsels of garlic chicken cooking in a wok and a simple breakfast special, which nearly 20 years later catapulted Mitsu-Ken Okazu & Catering to the thriving local hot spot it is today.
Best described by long-time patrons as a premier choice for bentos, combination plates and catering platters — all of which showcase the restaurant’s renowned Garlic Chicken — Mitsu-Ken is sans dining facility and only offers takeout. Yet, most recently, the eatery bid farewell to its original stomping grounds and relocated to new premises on North King Street (across from New City Nissan).
“We’ve been busier than ever,” says owner Brad Kaneshiro. “We’re happy with our new location because we have lots of parking and more space — both of which were lacking before.”
Open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m., Mitsu-Ken may have a new look, but continues to offer quality fare at unbeatable values.
Dining Out recently caught up with Brad and bookkeeper Sherri Kaneshiro after a busy day of putting together hundreds of bentos and plate lunches for eager diners.
“I usually come in at 2:30 a.m. to start preparing everything for the day,” Brad says. “And once we open, the people keep coming — we’re always busy.”
It’s evident that hard work pays off, and we have the scoops on Mitsu-Ken’s lasting legacy.
DO: Wow! Looking back, can you believe it was these two items (garlic chicken and the breakfast special) that brought about this renowned restaurant that stands here today?
Sherri: No way. We knew that our garlic chicken and breakfast special were good, but we didn’t know they were that good!
Brad: Yeah, we didn’t think it would take off like that!
DO: The food here is derived from recipes from close family and friends, and it’s no secret that Mitsu-Ken’s Garlic Chicken is the stand out item. What makes it so special?
Sherri: There’s a lot of garlic chicken out there available at other places, but a lot of customers say that garlic chicken elsewhere is either too sweet or garlicky. But with our Garlic Chicken, they say it’s the perfect combination of sweet and garlic flavors, so they really like that. They’ve commented that ours is the best.
Brad: It’s made from a secret recipe that we won’t reveal, and we do go through about 30 cases of chicken a day.
DO: Mitsu-Ken was in business for 20 years on North School Street, before relocating the restaurant to North King Street just last month. What has that experience been like?
Sherri: It’s been a good move for us. At our prior location, we catered to a lot of the residential community and a lot of schools around the area, such as Kamehameha Schools and St. Theresa School. Parking was rather difficult — we only had two parking stalls on the side of our building and street parking. There were a lot of complaints from customers about the tow-away zone.
Brad: Here at our new location there’s plenty of parking, so that’s definitely an issue that we were able to resolve that I’m sure our customers are very happy about. We also have air conditioning in the restaurant and enough space to comfortably wait for your food.
DO: Everything is so delicious! How did the menu progress throughout the years?
Brad: After our garlic chicken became very popular, the popularity of our bentos began kicking in. Back then, we only offered Mitsu-Ken Bento ($6.50) with garlic chicken, teri beef, Spam, hot dog, egg omelet and rice with furikake, and Mini Bento ($4.50) with garlic chicken, hot dog, egg omelet and rice with furikake. Now, we have a couple more bentos on that list, as well as a variety of plate lunches, sushi, salad, pupu platters and a la carte items.
Sherri: Just recently, we added Fried Saimin Bento ($6.25) to the menu, which includes fried saimin, garlic chicken, egg omelet, Portuguese sausage and rice. Our Sport Pack ($4) is simple, but good, and features fried chicken, hot dog and rice.
As Brad was saying, we have many plate lunches. Top-sellers include Garlic Chicken ($7), of course, Kalbi ($7.50) and Teriyaki Pork ($7.50). Kalbi and Teriyaki Pork are new plate lunches on the menu, but they’ve been doing well. All plate lunches are served with two scoops of rice and macaroni/potato salad. If you prefer tossed green salad, add on an additional 45 cents to your total.
DO: Mitsu-Ken also offers catering services, and as a result has become a part of many special occasions and events. Correct?
Brad: Yes, we have a lot of different options that our patrons can take advantage of — from our Five-Course Basic Menu priced at $7.50 per person (assorted sushi, macaroni/potato salad, assorted tempura, fried saimin and garlic chicken) to our Six-Course Menu with the addition of teriyaki meatballs, and our Seven-Course Menu with the addition of kalua pig and Chinese chicken salad.
Sherri: Most of the time, we only do catering for lunch events, because we close at 1 p.m. If you want to order for dinner, you still can, but you’re going to have to refrigerate it.
DO: Mitsu-Ken opens at 5 a.m., so what can early risers expect for breakfast?
Sherri: We have five options for breakfast. First of all, there’s our Breakfast Special ($4.25), featuring two scoops of fried rice, two eggs (any style) and two strips of bacon. Then we have our Breakfast Combo ($6.25), which is our Breakfast Special with three pieces of garlic chicken, along with the Breakfast Pack ($3.25), Breakfast Deluxe ($5.75) and Breakfast Deluxe Combo ($7.75).
DO: What’s the secret behind Mitsu-Ken’s continued success?
Sherri: I guess we’re just lucky and we have great customers who are very loyal. We want to thank them for that, especially for being patient throughout the moving process. When we moved here to our new location, they followed. We’ve gained a lot of new customers, as well.
Brad: I think our success is because we keep our prices affordable while still offering very big portions.
Mitsu-Ken Okazu & Catering
2300 N. King St., Honolulu
Tuesday – Saturday
5 a.m. – 1 p.m.