Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Kabuki Restaurant & DelicatessenRestaurant Insider
July 18, 2021
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO
ANNE LEE speaks with Kabuki Restaurant & Delicatessen owner and general manager
When you look for a traditional Japanese restaurant, you usually have to choose between teppanyaki, izakaya or sushi, to name a few, but with over 30 different types of options out there, Kabuki Restaurant & Delicatessen has got you covered.
The Waimalu location has been around for more than 56 years and still brings in customers from all over the island. When you first walk in, you are greeted by a one-of-a-kind indoor koi fish pond with a waterfall, which is so unique in Hawaii.
Owner John Afong and I shared some of his favorite dishes as he talked more about this restaurant, what makes it one of the area’s most-loved eateries and how it’s managed to stay in business all these years.
AL: How long have you been with Kabuki Restaurant?
JA: Believe it or not, only 16 months. I am an electrical contractor by trade but had a desire to own/oper ate a bar/restaurant. Since I frequent bars/restaurants all the time, and have many close friends that are in the restaurant industry, it was a natural progression and familiar industry for me. I heard that the owner of Kabuki was ready to retire but couldn’t find anyone interested in taking it over. My business partner and I looked into the numbers, and it was a worthwhile investment. We became the new owners in October 2019.
AL: Tell me the history about Kabuki Restaurant?
JA: Katsumi and Haruko Kazama were the original owners of the Waimalu location that opened in 1965, Kapiolani in 1984 (which closed this year due to the pandemic) and a location in Minnesota that opened in the early 1980s. Each of these then were operated by their children. Two of my waitresses — Setsuko and Hiroko — have been here since the restaurant opened. You look at them and they could be your grandmother, but they have great work ethic, loyal and are friendly — that is why our customers love them. The style of cuisine is basic old-style Japanese food with a lot of different options, all with traditional cooking methods.
AL: What dishes is the restaurant known for?
JA: We have a wide array of options that are uncommon for a local Japanese restaurant. We are known for our butterfish (the miso sauce is a secret homemade recipe). We offer teishoku to soba, family-style dinners and more. Set A ($26.95 per person), for instance, comes with barbecue short ribs, chicken teriyaki, hand-pounded tonkatsu, assorted tempura and sashimi. It’s served with soup, rice and tsukemono. We also have ochazuke, which is rare to see on a menu, steak and seafood, and a full sushi counter greeted by our sushi chef Masa Nagamine. We also have our popular okazuya for takeout. Also, our nabes are excellent.
AL: What did the chef prepare for us today?
JA: Salmon Ochazuke ($14.50) — our salmon is fresh chilled; our fish is fresh not frozen. We bring in hamachi and ikura from Japan.
Yose Nabe ($18.50) is my personal favorite. It’s an assortment of seafood, chicken, tofu and assorted fresh vegetables in a delicious broth. You try this once; you will be back again for more.
Nama Chirashi Bowl ($26.95) — this has a lot of different items. When I say a lot, I mean a lot: maguro, fresh hamachi, fresh salmon, saba, hokkigai clams, tako, tobiko and shiitake mushrooms served over sushi rice. Based on availability, we add seared ahi.
Regular Teishoku Butter-fish ($25.50) — the way we marinate the fish in the miso is what makes this dish truly special. This is served with rice and tsukemono.
AL: How often does the menu change?
JA: We haven’t changed the menu, as there are many choices for customers to choose from. We did stop the table cooking because of the pandemic and to make it easier for our waitstaff. Hopefully, when we can get back to normal, we will bring it back, as it is very popular with our customers. We do offer daily specials, which tend to sell out. You can call the restaurant to know what the specials are.
AL: How did the pandemic affect your business?
JA: The deli side really helped us stay afloat. Many customers came and supported us and ordered takeout, and we are very thankful for that. We did close the restaurant side, as many people were not comfortable dining in. Now that we are open for dine-in, there are safety measures in place for our guests and staff. (We are now able to) offer larger parties for up to 25 guests within regulations.
I feel positive that we are getting near the end of the pandemic, and that we are eventually going to get back to where we were in 2019. I see more and more people come in, and the customer base has been increasing by the day.
AL: Anything else you want to share?
JA: Ironically, I’ve always wanted to own a bar — but I ended up owning a restaurant that also serves alcohol. We want to thank all our customers and patrons that have supported us throughout this pandemic. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to survive.