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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 31, 2001

Time runs out for Bea's Drive-In

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

After nearly half a century, another local eatery is about to join Chunky's and Kelly's on the Honolulu drive-in history list.

Imelda Guerrero works the register at Bea's. Oxtail and pig-feet soup and homestyle Japanese mixed plate lunches were among the favorite menu items at Bea's.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

Bea Shimabukuro, 68, is turning off the stove at Bea's Drive-In in Kaimuki.

"I'm taking my face down," said Shimabukuro, referring to her trademark profile that has graced the entrance for years. "I started out when I was 20, and now I'm 68. But I'm still young. I can still work 15 hours a day.

"But, this place will no longer be 'Bea's.' "

The last day of business is Friday.

Half a century ago Shimabukuro was a young car hop working at the Like Like Drive-Inn on Ke'eaumoku when she cashed in her tips, secured a bank loan and bought the Donald Duck Drive-In on Kapi'olani Boulevard for $12,000.

Donald Duck, which had been around for several years, was your classic open-air drive-in. Shimabukuro took over on Oct. 16, 1953.

Twelve years later, after the folks at Disney squawked about her using the name of the famous cartoon character, Donald Duck Drive-In went the way of the wrecking ball and the all-new Bea's Drive-In was born at the same location.

In the mid-1980s, Shimabukuro restyled the establishment into the enclosed fast food restaurant that it is today.

Bea's was noted for it's oxtail and pig-feet soup and homestyle Japanese mixed plate lunches (in 1987 Bea's beat out nearly two dozen other local eateries to become a finalist in a "Best Plate Lunch" contest sponsored by a Honolulu radio station, finishing second to Byron's).

"I think I'm the first fast food restaurant that served Japanese shrimp tempura with teri beef and chicken katsu," she said.

Shimabukuro is planning a party at Bea's on April 8 for about 200 customers and church friends. Then, it'll all be over. Following renovations, Shimabukuro says the business will reopen under new ownership, a new name and a whole new design.

She says she could have turned the business over to her only son who lives on Kaua'i, but he prefers to stay put.

"He loves Kaua'i," she said. "He loves the fishing and surfing there. He loves the slow life. I love the fast life. It will be hard leaving. I'm used to being around people all my life."

Things change, though, said Shimabukuro, who plans to spend her time doing church work.

"It's probably time to go," she said. "The world was a different place when I started out. There was no Zippy's, no McDonald's. And there were just a few places like this.

"I can't imagine it was so long ago. Time went by so fast."