Byron’s Drive-In to close in 2013

Dec. 7, 2012 | 0 Comments

BY ERIKA ENGLE / eengle@staradvertiser.com

It truly is the end of an era.

Byron’s Drive-In, established in 1965 near Hono­lulu Airport, will close at the end of February to make way for the landowner’s redevelopment plans.

<em>Marian Kim, right, and her second husband, Dewey Kim, at Byron's in 2005. (Star-Advertiser File)</em>

Marian Kim, right, and her second husband, Dewey Kim, at Byron's in 2005. (Star-Advertiser File)

For the last 58 years, the Wong family companies have fed generations of Hawaii residents and visitors from around the world.

Byron’s is the last remaining eatery owned by the companies launched by the late Andy Wong and wife Marian in 1954, when they bought Leon’s Tavern in Kailua.

The three entities under which the restaurants operated, Leon’s of Kailua Ltd., Pacific Food Services Inc. and Sea Breeze Ltd., spawned a dozen local-style and upscale restaurants that make kama­aina wax nostalgic, including Andy’s Drive Inn in Kailua, opened in 1957; Andrew’s, first at Ward Warehouse, then Executive Centre; Chinese Chuckwagon at the Ward Farmers Market; Chowder House and Orson’s Seafood Restaurant at Ward Warehouse; Coral Reef Chinese restaurant, Wong’s Okazu-ya, Fishmonger’s Wife and Byron II at Ala Moana Center; Eat at Joe’s in the Outrigger Malia; and Seafood Emporium, the location of which is unclear.

Business cycles rise and fall, and Pacific Food Services filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in 1997. It closed Orson’s and Chinese Chuck Wagon as part of the reorganization.

All the others have closed along the way for various reasons.

Andy’s and Andrew’s were named for the founder, while Orson’s and both Byron’s restaurants were named for the couple’s sons. They also had four daughters, but given Andy Wong’s belief that a restaurant named after a woman would not be successful, none were named after them. Wong’s Okazu-ya was considered to be the daughters’ restaurant, Marian Wong told the Hono­lulu Star-Bulletin in 2005.

Customers would cross the Koolau to eat Andy’s burgers, slathered with its proprietary red or yellow sauces. When Andy’s closed in 1999, customers bereft of their favored sauces begged the Star-Bulletin to publish the recipe for replication at home. Marian Wong would not divulge the recipe, as the sauces were available at Byron’s.

She remarried in 1993, and her new husband, Dewey Kim, jumped into the family business, even helping the matriarch with baking for the restaurants.

“When I got here (in 2009), we wanted to change the menu and do different things,” said Byron’s manager Ruth Ara­kaki. That included additional signature dishes from former restaurants in the empire that could be accomplished at the drive-in, including chowder, from the Chowder House.

About two years ago the signature burger was elevated from a thin, generic, flat and frozen patty to a burger made from isle-grown beef from Kua­hiwi Ranch in the Kau district of Hawaii island.

Byron’s bought 1,000 pounds of ground beef from the ranch each month.

“They’re such great people,” said ranch co-owner Michelle Galimba. “I’ve just loved working with them — beyond the money and the beef.”

“They were one of my larger customers and very steady customers,” she said, “I really enjoyed knowing that they were getting (our) beef to a different clientele than most of the other customers, like Alan Wong’s. It made me feel really good (that) they were getting local beef to local people.”

Byron’s has 35 employees, many of them old-timers, Ara­kaki said. The assistant manager has been employed there 23 years.

“My cook’s been here 13 or 14 years,” Ara­kaki added, while others have been there seven years and some are new hires.

Lengthy employment also was true at the upscale, white-tablecloth Byron II at Ala Moana Center, a favorite for business lunches as well as pau hana for the business community as well as mall shoppers.

It was the type of restaurant servers would aspire to work at, and where low staff turnover had aspirants waiting.

The landlord at 3297 N. Nim­itz Highway is Industrial Investors Inc., an affiliate of K.J.L. Associates, fee owner of the land. It is led by Warren Luke, who also is chairman, chief executive officer and president of Hawaii National Bank.

The company will redevelop the lot to “increase efficiency and modernize the location,” said Cathy Luke, president and COO.

“Pacific Food Services has been on a month-to-month lease for a while,” she said, adding that K.J.L. has offered them alternate locations “and will continue to provide options should they be interested,” but there has been no indication Byron’s will reopen elsewhere.

After Byron’s ceases operation K.J.L. will be “prepared” to speak further about the redevelopment, Luke said.

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