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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Fast-food town likes turkeys to go

 •  What's open and closed Thanksgiving Day

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Staff Writer

Ahhh, modern life. ... You drive up to the Hawai'i Prince porte cochère, keep the engine running, pop the trunk, let Chef Goran Streng's staff load your steaming turkey dinner, and off you go for your family's Thanksgiving feast.

Hawaii Prince Hotel employees work assembly-line style to box pre-ordered Thanksgiving dinners. Turkeys get cooked tomorrow. From right are JoAnn Perreira-Machiguchi, Colette Pang, Liana Mulleitner, Haunani Maunu-Hendrix, Susan Uyetake and Keith Ushijima.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

The turkey-to-go phenomenon may not be for everyone, but it has certainly taken hold in a fast-food, rush-and-tumble world.

"There's been a great and growing demand for the packages," said Jeanine Mamiya-Kalahiki, spokeswoman for Zippy's, one of the first companies to offer the service in Hawai'i. In 1997, when the idea was launched, Zippy's sold 340 half-turkey combination dinners to go. That is dwarfed by this year's numbers: 1,900 half-turkey and 1,200 full turkey dinners, an eightfold increase.

Families are finding that giving up the hours of laborious thawing and roasting and basting and stirring and peeling and boiling and mashing and grinding isn't so tough after all.

"I was always so leery about doing this," said Kalowena Komeiji, a repeat Prince customer. "It wasn't Thanksgiving unless you knocked yourself silly.

"But this one year I said, 'OK, let's just do it,' and it was so much easier. The first year, I thought something was wrong because I had so much time on my hands. The second year, I couldn't stand it and bought a ham."

Since then, she has been a steady Prince Thanksgiving customer, and the guilt has been replaced by enjoyment in being able to go to the beach before a relaxed dinner.

"It used to be that by the time you sat down, you were sick of turkey," Komeiji said.

With half a dozen establishments now firmly in the turkey-to-go business — a trademark registered by the Hyatt Regency Waikiki 12 years ago — traffic tomorrow will have to accommodate pickups all over town.

Besides the Hawai'i Prince, where customers arrive from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., all 23 Zippy's locations will have a steady stream of pickups for half and full turkey to-go dinners that need reheating. The Hyatt Regency Waikiki has two pickup spots, one in Waikiki and one at Kapalama School for the 1,200 turkeys it sold. There was even a turkey waiting list.

A fleet of Zippy's trucks will make multiple runs that day from its Waipi'o plant, where the potato peeling machine does 50 pounds in a couple of minutes. "Pretty much this is our biggest-volume time," said general manager Miles Saito. "It's not really a big thing for Christmas. That's when local families get together."

Hawaii Prince Hotel Chef Goran Streng stirs a batch of sausage that will go into about 1,500 pounds of cornbread stuffing for 400 birds being cooked at the hotel for pickup by customers.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

But families are getting together at Thanksgiving, too — the local, to-go way.

Norman Sunga and his wife, Gina, might even get to sleep in tomorrow instead of rising at 6 to get the first bird in the oven by 8.

"She's like, 'Wow, more time for me,' " said Sunga, who won the Hawai'i Prince dinner from his employer, T-Mobile. "If you get early visitors, then you have one turkey already prepared. The best thing is you know it's already cooked."

The second bird goes in early in the afternoon, because the Sungas feed 15 at Thanksgiving, including a bunch of former military buddies whose families are far away.

"Usually, our morning turkey isn't that big," he explained. "So the to-go turkey is perfect."

It was T-Mobile office manager Dawn Lawson who dreamed up the reward for top salespeople.

"With retail, it gets crazy and busy during the holidays," said Lawson, "so we thought it would be a good idea to give them Thanksgiving dinner so they could enjoy the day off. I talked to one person today, and he just thought that was the coolest thing."

Diana Nakamura, who manages Quality Travel, also thinks it's pretty cool — right up there with fleeing New Year's family traditions by flying off to Vegas, as they do now that the children are grown and can join them.

Though she never would have ordered out when the kids were growing up and liked to help, she likes the ease of getting a prepared Thanksgiving meal now.

"With this, everyone can sit down and play games and enjoy themselves," she said. "This way, you can sit and visit rather than running around and cooking. The aunties all feel they have to come in and help in the kitchen, so this frees everybody."

Dinner packages are priced to fit most budgets. Foodland delis for instance, offer full turkey, ham and prime rib dinner packages beginning at $39.99 to serve 10 to 12. Orders need only 24 hours' notice. The Hyatt offers its full turkey package for $68.95 — which needs to be reheated — while the Hawai'i Prince's hot steaming turkeys are $95.

Chef Streng will be at the hotel by around 4 a.m. tomorrow, bringing the ovens up to the perfect temperature for the 400 birds his hotel produces for the to-go crowd. Then, with oven thermometer in hand, he'll monitor the whole operation — checking under a thick leg of each turkey to make sure it's at 185 degrees as 75 turkeys come out at a time and are packed in an assembly line set up in the ballroom.

At the Hyatt, 14 of their 10- to 12-pound turkeys are going to Barbara Leong, who increased her order to 10 this year. Leong said her life had been filled with so many friends and blessings, she had to show some of those people how much she cared.

One turkey is going to a sister-in-law whose husband is serving in Iraq, another to someone at the bank who helped her out recently, another to a friend whose husband just had surgery.

Though the bill topped $1,000, she shrugs it off, because she just sold her Mokule'ia beach house and felt she could afford it.

"I've been a widow for 24 years and have had to bring up my children, but I've been surrounded by so much love and people who care," Leong said. "So in this small way, I can share.

"And these are wonderful setups — a whole turkey, real mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, gravy, corn, cranberries, a pie and rolls. I'm keeping one because I love leftovers."

Paul Tse doesn't know from leftovers. Last year, the family got together on Thanksgiving for Chinese food. The year before, it was Japanese.

"With our family, everyone has different schedules, and they have to work, even with Thanksgiving," said the Hong Kong-born Tse. "So to make dinner is hard.

So we say, 'Thanksgiving night, at 8 o'clock we'll meet in a restaurant.' "

But not this year. Even though his parents don't particularly like turkey, the family is going to meet at his brother's house, and Tse is bringing a precooked turkey feast. That will join the roast chicken, roast duck, fish and stir-fried Chinese vegetables the rest of the family will bring.

Tse said he'd probably make or pick up a little something to go with it. Macaroni salad, maybe. And Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Foodland, meanwhile, is still taking a flurry of last-minute orders. Call by 6 p.m. today at any of the 29 Foodland or Sack N Save outlets statewide, said spokeswoman Sheryl Toda, and you can pick it up by 6 p.m. tomorrow.

"We already have 1,000 more this year than last year, and we had 5,000 last year," said Toda. "It's easy and convenient. You just heat and serve."

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.