Local Mainstay Still Going Strong, Tasting DeliciousCover Story
March 11, 2018
Story By: Caroline Wright | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo
In recent years, kamaaina have bade farewell to a number of truly great restaurants. Venerable eateries like Byron’s Drive Inn, Ono Hawaiian Foods, the Columbia Inn and too many others have closed after decades of operation, leaving us to mourn their passing like old friends.
But Sekiya’s, the little local-style Japanese restaurant in Kaimuki, is still going strong.
In fact, the restaurant, first launched as “School Delicatessen” on School Street in 1935, continues to draw customers old and new with a menu that hasn’t changed much in 83 years.
As the great-granddaughter of founders Taisuke and Katsuko Sekiya, manager Deanna Hara often ponders her family legacy. “I’m the fourth generation,” she says with a smile. “We really think about local people here. We’re trying to provide top service, and the food our customers remember from when they were kids. We get folks who haven’t been here in 20 or 30 years. They grow up, they come back to visit.”
Manager Trey Paresa chimes in, “And they say, ‘Oh, the food’s so good!'”
Sekiya’s extensive menu, filled with delicious surprises, goes far beyond standard okazu fare. The menu features local favorites like marinated fried chicken and macaroni potato salad, sandwiches that could be found in any Mainland roadside diner, fountain service that includes floats, milkshakes and malted shakes — and, of course, a tantalizing selection of Japanese comfort food.
A good example of the latter is Sekiya’s Kayaku Udon ($11.55). Roughly translated, kayaku means “adding extra ingredients.” During Japan’s Edo period, which began in the 17th century, Osaka’s new merchant class didn’t have time for traditional Japanese meals. They needed hearty meals that could be eaten quickly. And thus evolved the kayaku concoction — a bowl of rice with chopped vegetables.
“We use udon noodles and a dashi base, plus chicken, mushrooms, watercress and Chinese cabbage,” says Paresa.
Tofu lovers will salivate when they hear about a rare new item on Sekiya’s menu: Tofu Teri ($14.25).
“It comes in a lighter-style teriyaki sauce,” says Paresa. “The tofu gets crisp on the outside. There’s a nice balance of flavors. And this is a full meal, with rice, miso soup, tsukemono and tea.”
Another delicious option for those who crave healthy ingredients: Vegetable Stir-Fry ($13.25), a saute of tofu, shiitake mushrooms, Chinese peas and zucchini. “We also have Stir-Fry Chicken for the same price,” adds Hara.
Fried Ahi ($14.25) has been a customer favorite for decades, with good reason. “We use fresh ahi, and we do a light pan sear, with really light seasonings,” says Paresa.
Traditionalists are always happy to see Shake Ochazuke ($11.25) on Sekiya’s menu. Ochazuke — from (o)cha, “tea,” and tsuke, “submerge” — first became popular in Japan’s Heian period (A.D. 794-1185). The satisfying meal includes tea poured over rice, tsukemono and a piece of salmon on the side. “The salmon is lightly salted and you have pickled veggies, tea and rice. … Again, a nice balance of flavors,” says Paresa.
Sekiya’s staffers earn their stripes
At Sekiya’s, the future is in good hands. A number of staff members of this beloved Oahu restaurant, now in its 83rd year, have taken advantage of the Hawaii Cook Apprenticeship Program at Kapiolani Community College (KCC).
Through this innovative program, local restaurant workers are nominated by their employers to receive free culinary training through KCC’s famed Culinary Institute of the Pacific. Recent program graduates include Sekiya’s employees Benjamin Hara, Monica Hara, Trey Paresa, T.S. Shapucy and Sepe Tolenna; Chenerina Doria and Neal Nakasone are attending the current session.
“We really appreciate this program!” says manager Deanna Hara, an apprenticeship graduate herself. “It’s a wonderful training implement in Hawaii’s growing food industry. We apply the skills we learned in class throughout the restaurant — from food prices to cooking techniques — as well as nutrition and sanitation practices.”