Da Kitchen makes a comeback at Piko Cafe | News, Sports, Jobs

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A Da Kitchen specialty, the panko-crusted and fried Musubi Spam, comes out of the deep fryer on Wednesday. Da Kitchen’s most popular dishes have returned to the kitchen at Piko Cafe, which serves breakfast and lunch from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. seven days a week and makes way for the Da Kitchen dinner service from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday at a small space next to Longs Drugs in Kihei. The Maui News / Photo by MATTHEW THAYER

In the months after Da Kitchen closed, owner Les Tomita continued to be asked down the aisles of Costco and Longs when he was going to bring back the restaurant’s beloved katsu and kalbi chicken plates.

“I’m not the leader, but I know people. We have been doing this for 20 years ”, Said Tomita. “(People asked) ‘When are you going to reopen?’ . . . So you look around, you poke your nose here and someone says, ‘You know, we have this space. Do you want to watch it?

“It just snowballed.”

This is how Tomita and a few favorites from her old restaurant walked into the kitchen of the Piko Cafe in Kihei, where employees roast coffee and turn ube pancakes in the morning give way to workers baking fried spam musubi in the evening. .

While this isn’t quite Da Kitchen’s second coming – Tomita describes it as “an extension” from Piko’s local style menu – these are definitely the dishes and flavors of the old location.

THE TOMITA

“A guy walked into Piko and they said, ‘Is that Da Kitchen’s food?’ And we say, “Yes, we are implementing some elements” “ Said Tomita. “He ordered the katsu and the kalbi. He opened his plate when he got out and said, “Oh, this is Da Kitchen food. It’s the best kind of story I can tell you.

Da Kitchen, which closed its Kihei and Kahului sites in July due to the financial impacts of COVID-19, began operating in the 1,000-square-foot space of Piko Cafe in mid-May, according to the Piko owner. , Richard Uyechi. Tucked away in the corner of a Kihei mall next to Longs, Piko offers breakfast and lunch from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. seven days a week, while Da Kitchen dines from 4:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with plans to add Mondays. hours from the second week of June, said Tomita. It is a small business with around five employees for breakfast and lunch and four for the evening shift. Uyechi covers two-thirds of the rent, while Tomita pays the other third.

Both owners say they still feel the partnership, but so far it makes sense. Tomita and Uyechi are both local boys from Oahu – “I grew up in Waimanalo, he grew up in a richer neighborhood, I would say,” Uyechi said – with a background in the restaurant industry and complementary passions. Tomita, 60, from Waialae Nui, prefers “The physical part, the kitchen,” while Uyechi, 58, is the businessman.

“We have common ground on which we understand what each of us is doing”, Said Uyechi. “It actually makes things pretty good. But I’m more of a sales and marketing guy. Thought it would be nice, I can push Da Kitchen because they are popular.

On the first day that Da Kitchen started cooking, around ten customers showed up, some of whom stumbled across the menu outside of the Da Kitchen food ad. People started telling Tomita that news was spreading on social media and that a Facebook post about the restaurant had 236 likes.

Prep cook Bryan Fermin makes Musubi Spam Wednesday in the kitchen of the Piko Cafe, which shares its space with a relaunched version of Da Kitchen, which had to close in July due to the financial impacts of COVID-19. The Maui News / Photo by MATTHEW THAYER

For Tomita, the main measure of success is not likes or shares, but rather parking.

“I’m not a Facebook guy,” he said. “I’m an old school pencil and paper guy. . . . I look at the parking lot and they walk from their car straight to Piko. The first week we walked around and stumbled upon it. Last week, they walk straight into Piko at night.

Friday evening, the operation served a hundred people, he estimated.

Piko had been busy even during the pandemic, but Uyechi said he was happy to give Da Kitchen a chance to come back while taking a break in the restaurant.

“I didn’t want to make dinners because I finished working 12 hours”, said Uyechi, who came around 6 or 7 a.m. and stayed until 8 or 9 p.m. “I need a break too.”

Da Kitchen owner Les Tomita talks about his plan to reopen Wednesday outside Cafe Piko in Kihei. The Maui News / Photo by MATTHEW THAYER

As a teenager, Uyechi worked at the KC Drive Inn in Oahu and eventually turned to food. He came to Maui almost 25 years ago and has held jobs ranging from car rental to managing Royal Kona Coffee and working for Paradise Beverages.

In January 2017, the Uyechi family opened the Piko Cafe.

“Actually, the first reason I got into this business was because my son wanted to do it,” Said Uyechi. “I said to him, ‘Do you know how difficult it is to run a restaurant?’ I told him that once you get tired you still have to clean the kitchen. He said, ‘No worries dad, I’ll help you.’ Now he’s in Arizona. He’s a pilot.

Uyechi recalled how her son always said “If the food is good, people will come”, and customers have, despite the pandemic. Piko Cafe never had to close, relying on take-out orders and federal aids such as the Paycheck Protection Program and low-interest loans from the US Small Business Administration.

“I kept going and noticed a lot of new faces started appearing, and we got busier and busier during that time.” he said.

Tomita said that he and Uyechi are “Not proud guys,” they will therefore follow the business model that customers want the most. He praises Piko’s food, which includes a wide selection of coffees and specialty drinks, as well as breakfast items like banana pancakes and lunch options like ground beef and the mochiko chicken. Nearly a dozen of Da Kitchen’s favorite dishes are on the dinner menu, such as chicken katsu, kalbi, fish tempura, and a combination plate of chicken katsu, teri beef, teri chicken, and breaded mahi. Customers are already asking for dishes like teri salmon and prawn scampi, and Tomita has to remind them that “We’re taking baby steps,” but will eventually have the classics, including the full page of loco moco variations that Da Kitchen used to do.

He said the smaller operation – from a 2,200 square foot space in Kahului with 25 employees stationed to a 1,000 square foot location with about a dozen workers – opens up the potential for franchising.

For now, Tomita is just happy to be back.

“I just want to thank the community for supporting us during these first weeks”, he said. “It was fantastic, just the outpouring.”

Piko Cafe is located at 1215 S.Kihei Rd., Unit E. For more information, visit www.pikocafe.com or call (808) 793-2671.

* Colleen Uechi can be contacted at [email protected]

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