Rainbow Drive-In expands reach in Kapahulu
BY BETTY SHIMABUKURO / firstname.lastname@example.org
The plate lunches at Rainbow Drive-In fall firmly in the category of not-broke-don’t-fix.
Change is unnecessary for purposes of taste or economics (Rainbow already moves 1,600 to 1,800 plate lunches every day, thank you very much). But growth, that’s OK.
HAWAII’S FAVORITE KITCHENS
3111 Castle Street, Kapahulu
Open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily
To that end, the owners took a big step in June and take another next week.
First, they brought Hiroshi Fukui on board as vice president for dining and facilities. Fukui is a capital-C chef, formerly at the helm of Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas, a restaurant acclaimed for its sophisticated contemporary Japanese cuisine.
And on Wednesday, Rainbow will open Hawaii’s Favorite Kitchens, a market next to the Kapahulu drive-in that will bring several local food outlets together in one space with an overall theme of local grinds and nostalgia.
“I didn’t want to do a Rainbow clone,” Senior Vice President Jim Gusukuma said. Instead he wanted to offer food he didn’t think he could add to Rainbow’s menu.
“People were asking, ‘Why don’t you do poke bowls?'” for example, he said.
Instead, at the new market, chef Elmer Guzman’s Poke Stop will sell poke bowls; Hoku BBQ Chicken will plate up chicken grilled right outside; and a KC Drive Inn counter will offer Waffle Dogs and the once-famous Ono Ono peanut butter and chocolate shakes. Rainbow will contribute Rainbowls — rice bowls topped with the drive-in’s shoyu chicken, chili and teriyaki beef or pork.
HawaiiNostalgia Studios will sell its line of T-shirts printed with images of gone-but-not-forgotten local eating joints (Chunky’s, anyone, or Kuhio Grill?).
Eventually Gusukuma would like to feature dishes popular at restaurants that are no more.
“Dig up old recipes, dig up old restaurants, if we can find them.”
To that end it wouldn’t hurt to have an experienced chef on the team, and it turned out that while this concept was in development, one was available.
Fukui and his former restaurant partners had a falling out last year. Fukui scouted locations for the new restaurant that most people in the industry expected he’d open. But even with financial backing assured, the risk was discouraging, he said. A new venture would have required up to $2 million.
“I’m a pessimistic guy,” Fukui said. “I thought, ‘What if I don’t make it?'”
Then Gusukuma called, offering a position meant to see Rainbow into its future. Gusukuma and company President Harvey Iwamura inherited the drive-in from their in-laws, Seiju and Ayako Ifuku (they both married Ifuku daughters), but there is no one in the family likely to take over from them.
“Here it’s not just coming in and working for somebody else,” Fukui said. “It’s the possibility for the future.”
Of course, supervising a staff making plate lunches is a world apart from the art-on-a-plate that was his hallmark at Hiroshi’s, and Fukui said he does miss the creative challenges.
Some of his colleagues were surprised by his decision, and not always in a positive way — “they think I’m wasting my talent” — but his good friends, Fukui said, understand the financial stability and different type of professional growth Rainbow offers.
He brought his former kitchen manager, Douglas Fujii, with him as an assistant, and together their focus is on the new market and the old drive-in, building efficiency in an operation far busier than any place they’ve worked before.
It is a different world, Fukui said, but a familiar one.
“This is the first place I ever ate when I came to Hawaii (in 1977, from Japan). I was 12 years old. I lived up the street. I think it was a chili plate.”
Fukui said he judges plate-lunch quality by two things: macaroni salad and brown gravy. Rainbow excels at both, he said, “but I’m not giving you the gravy recipe.”
The mac salad, though, he will share. Recipes tend to be similar, but this version is unique in its technique. It takes two days to get it right — the cooked macaroni sits in water for a while, then drains overnight. Once dressed, the salad is chilled for another night to get the flavors just right.
RAINBOW DRIVE-IN MACARONI SALAD
» 1-1/2 gallons water
» 1 pound uncooked elbow macaroni
» 1 teaspoon salt
» 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
» 1/2 teaspoon MSG (optional)
» 2-1/4 cups mayonnaise (Best Foods preferred)
Directions: Bring water to boil, add macaroni, boil 30 to 35 minutes on medium-high. Remove pot from heat; add 3 cups cold water and set aside 10 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water to remove starch. Let drain in colander at least 3 hours but best overnight.
Combine remaining ingredients. Add to macaroni and mix. Refrigerate overnight; serve cold. Serves 20.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving (with optional MSG): 250 calories, 20 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 250 mg sodium, 17 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, no sugar, 3 g protein