Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Sushi KingRestaurant Insider
January 2, 2022
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO
ANNE LEE speaks with Sushi King managers SYLVIA KONDO AKAKA AND TEZ HARTNEY, and founder/owner/mom SHU-LEE KONDO
I met with Sushi King manager Sylvia Kondo Akaka, founder/owner/mom Shu-Lee Kondo and manager Tez Hartney — aka the sushi queens — at their new Kakaako location at University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine. This family-owned business celebrated 30 years in 2021 and continues to offer the same delicious options for guests in their new space and more. Sushi platters are their specialty — and don’t forget to preorder yours for the 2022 Super Bowl on Feb. 13.
AL: How long ago did Sushi King first open and what’s the secret to the success?
SK: In 1991, we first opened our doors at our original King Street location and we will kick off our 30 years at our new Kakaako location.
You have to be reasonably priced, reasonable portion and taste has to be very consistent. The owner should be there all the time so the customer feels comfortable seeing the same face. I have a lot of customers that visit Hawaii and come back every time they are here.
AL: How did this concept start originally?
SKA: My mom and dad started restaurants in San Francisco for about 15 years prior to moving to Hawaii as a place to eventually retire and started Sushi King.
SK: I’m full Chinese, born and raised in Japan, and went to San Francisco for school and met my husband who was working as a chef specializing in French cuisine. We decided to open a Japanese restaurant as he couldn’t speak English. French and Japanese cuisine is similar in the presentation and color is important. Within six months he lost his eyesight, and I had to work in the kitchen and make the dishes.
AL: How did your daughters get involved in the business?
SK: Both Sylvia and Tez grew up in the restaurant and worked there until they went off to college. Tez also worked with Alan Wong for a few years, and Sylvia worked in high-end retail. Both of my daughters ended up in Las Vegas in retail so I decided to partner with Boyd Gaming and opened a Sushi King in Las Vegas in 1999 so they could work there. It closed in 2006 when they tore down the Stardust Hotel & Casino. This restaurant is truly a family-run business; our staff has been with us for many years. My grandchildren are also working in the restaurant.
AL: Tell me more about your new location at JABSOM?
SKA: Our King Street location was too big for what we were doing, which was focusing on takeout. Our good friend was already here at this location and let us know that the adjacent space was available.We opened in November.We are easy to find, you can park on the Diamond Head side of the building or metered parking on Ilalo Street.
AL: What bestselling items are we featuring?
SKA: We are doing our Grilled Ahi Steak ($17) bento, made from fresh ahi sautéed with grated ginger, onions, ponzu sauce and rice.
The Salmon Katsu Bento ($11) is our No. 1 seller. It has a generous portion of crispy salmon katsu over rice with homemade tartar sauce. It includes two appetizers, which change daily. Add on miso soup, as well as your choice of California roll, spicy tuna and inari cone sushi for $5.
Our handmade Gyoza ($5 vegetable; $6 pork) is filled with mom’s special recipe. Our Kakaako Platter ($84) has a mix of nigiri and rolls. All the platters that we have on the menu were created during the pandemic and continue to be popular. Finally, the Chirashi Deluxe Bowl ($24) has about seven different types of fresh fish (these change based on availability) over sushi rice.
AL: What else is good on the menu?
SKA: We are focusing more on sushi platters and bento-style bowls, which are easier for our customers to grab and go. Everything is made to order and brought in fresh, so it’s still the same quality. Much of it is a la carte so you can add on a soup and sushi to a bento.
AL: Will there be vegetarian options?
TH:We will be starting vegan curry and expanding into noodles like udon and soba and vegetarian dashi/stock as well. Nabe is something else we will be working on, as well as more take home kits.
AL: What would you like our readers to know?
SK: Because our fish is fresh we tend to sell out, so we encourage people to order early, and use our online ordering system at sushikinghi.com. It texts you a link to let you know it’s ready, when you’re outside we have curbside pickup.
For larger orders, we request 48 hour advance notice. For Super Bowl platters we will offer more fried items like chicken wings and karaage.
Check out Instagram (@sushikinghi), where we list daily specials.We will honor any gift certificate from our original Sushi King location.