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Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Duke’s Waikiki

Restaurant Insider

May 15, 2022

Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: ANNE LEE

Anne Lee poses with Duke’s Waikiki executive chef Matt Young.

ANNE LEE speaks with Duke’s Waikiki executive chef MATT YOUNG

The popular award-winning buffets at Duke’s Waikiki are back and better than ever.

Executive chef Matt Young invited me to try the newly opened lunch buffet, which offers fresh kalua pig and cabbage, locally sourced fresh fish and chicken, fresh salads and fruits, and even a yakisoba station — there were so many options for us to choose from. For those who want a taste of a local-style plate lunch, you have to try this buffet.

Duke’s Waikiki buffet options are plenty.

We caught up with this talented chef and learned more about what this busy restaurant has to offer.

AL: How did you get into the restaurant industry?

MY: I have been working in restaurants since I was 15 years old. My parents actually made it become reality. They said if you want to get a car at 16, you need to get a job and save up some money. This is what I did all throughout high school and college, and didn’t really think of it as a career until I realized I had a passion for this industry. I decided to go to Johnson & Wales to study culinary and have been with TS Restaurants for 15 years. The rest, they say, is history.

AL: Tell me the difference between Duke’s and Hula Grill.

MY: Duke’s Waikiki and Hula Grill Waikiki are known for their locally sourced menus, using products from local farmers, and everything is prepared fresh. At Hula Grill, farm-to-table culinary experiences are a big focus, as are upholding cultural traditions, like hula. We have something for everyone — kids, vegans or that picky eater.

Duke’s popularity has to do with a sense of place. We are located right in the middle of Waikiki, which was Duke (Kahanamoku)’s playground. Being the iconic figure he was, you just get that welcoming, warm feeling from coming in this restaurant. We’re very synonymous with who he was, and it’s very important for us to do that, because if you’re representing somebody like that, you can’t do it wrong.

AL: What are the lunch buffet options?

MY: The lunch buffet is $21.50. It’s a steal at that price. We are known for our salad bar. We have a big salad bar selection with fresh local greens and vegetables, white and fried rice, shoyu chicken, kalua pig and cabbage, and a yakisoba station, and we also have a panini station that features our panini of the day. The lunch buffet is offered from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., seven days a week.

AL: Tell me more about your other buffets.

MY: Our popular breakfast buffet has been an option for a while now, from 7 to 10.30 a.m. seven days a week at $21.50 per person. It features:

• Made-to-order omelets (bacon, ham and cheese, Denver style or seasonal veggie), eggs Benedict, scrambled eggs, banana pancakes and French toast (choose from coconut or traditional maple syrup)

• Hawaii’s own spicy Portuguese sausage, Duroc bacon, breakfast potatoes with onions and peppers, and fresh local fruit (papaya, pineapple, cantaloupe, watermelon, oranges)

• Assorted cereals, yogurt and granola; selection of breakfast breads, including English muffins and bagels; fresh brewed coffee and hot tea; or for an additional fee we have the famous Duke’s bloody mary ($10) or a mimosa ($8).

Then we have our famous Thursday night all-you-can-eat prime rib buffet, which is one of the best deals in town ($64 per person, $24 for keiki). We offer our popular slow-roasted Double R Signature Ranch prime rib that we featured on your show, Where Hawaii Eats. There’s also all the fresh poke or shrimp cocktail you want to eat. We also have our macadamia nut-crusted fresh catch with lemon caper beurre blanc; huli huli chicken with teriyaki sauce and pineapple gremolata; and a vegetarian option in the kabocha squash ravioli with coconut ginger broth and seasonal vegetables.

Finally, no meal is complete with our signature Hula Pie that you can order for $13. It’s big enough to share.

AL: Duke’s does a lot to support the community. How did that come to be?

MY: Our founders Rob and Sandy believe that supporting the community where they lived, worked and played was important and incorporated that into our company culture. Currently, our restaurants donate over 1% of profits to causes that are important locally and that share our values. One in particular is our Duke’s Malama Crew Beach Cleanup. This is a fun, educational way to receive a free breakfast after, at Duke’s Waikiki (see the schedule up top). Cleanup starts at 7.30 a.m. We meet at the restaurant and work our way down to the Duke Kahanamoku statue. In honor of World Ocean Day, June 8, we will be off-site in Kahuku with snacks, beverages and a cookout at the end.

AL: Anything else you want to share?

MY: We have live music, all day seven days a week, and Henry Kapono is here with us on Sun-days, unless he is out touring or has something on his calendar. We offer validation if you park at Ohana East for $5, up to four hours — not bad for Waikiki.

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