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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Get your coffee without leaving the car

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

The old Manoa Shell service station closed years ago, but you can still get "leaded" and "unleaded" fuel there, only now it's coffee rather than gas in what manager Bobby Rabesa called O'ahu's only true drive-through coffee shop: It's A Bea-utiful Day Kafe.

It's A Beautiful Day Kafe on East Manoa Road was formerly a gas station.

Manager Bobby Rabesa serves Nahua Patrinos. The drive-through can get customers "in and out" in less than 90 seconds, the owner says.

Photos by Andrew Shimabuku • The Honolulu Advertiser

The company has transformed one of the old station's gas pump areas into a drive-through with a coffee trolley and food display cases and other pump areas into an outdoor lounge with tables, garden furniture and hanging shades to block the sun and rain.

"Most people take advantage of the drive-through and see that it is a good place to hang out, too," said coffee shop owner Gordon Okamoto. "There are other drive-ups around town, but not a functional drive-through where you don't have to get out of the car and can come as you are."

Rabesa said operating a drive-through lets you see people as they really are — rollers in their hair, wearing robes and slippers and pets hanging out the windows.

"Our demographic is working people," Rabesa said. "Manoa residents, leaving the valley for work or school. A lot of professors, students and staff from the University of Hawai'i."

Also renting space at the East Manoa Road building are Boston's North End Pizza Bakery, a vegetarian catering kitchen that serves Belgian waffles on weekends, and a boutique specializing in maternity and baby clothes.

The unique mix of businesses is turning the site into a community gathering place catering to students, moms and residents looking for a place to hang out.

Rabesa said he even names his regulars who come and hang out. There's the "fancy sneaker social club," "the baby brigade" and "the thinkers."

Gordon Okamoto
It's A Beautiful Day Kafe is named in tribute to the '60s band from San Francisco that performed the FM hit "White Bird," said Okamoto, who fondly remembers his "hippie" days. The shop's sign is similar to the group's famous first album cover with its Maxfield Parish-style art of a young girl holding her hat against the wind, with bright blue sky and clouds in the background. 

"I have no connection to them, but I've always loved that band," Okamoto said. "I had that vision with that album cover and converted it for our logo. We made it local style and changed it enough so it wasn't plagiarizing. Everyone from that era knows that cover and their music."

Speed is the key to the success of a drive-through coffee shop, said Okamoto, and their fully automated espresso machine can grind the beans and pump out a cup of coffee in 25 seconds.

At a glance
  • It's a Beautiful Day Kafe
  • 2740 E. Manoa Road
  • Open daily from 6 a.m. to about 7 p.m. weekdays, open 7 a.m. weekends.
"We are getting people in and out in less than a minute and a half," Okamoto said.

Manoa resident Kristine Cuthrell drove through last week and ordered her usual — a four-shot Americano. Cuthrell said it's a convenient way to get her morning coffee.

"And it's very good coffee," she said.

Customer Gilbert Ikehara, a social worker in Kalihi-Palama, said he prefers to shop at small businesses when he can.

"I like Starbucks," Ikehara said. "You can go anywhere and get the same thing the same way, but I'd rather support a mom-and-pop."

Since opening in February, It's A Beautiful Day Kafe has seen its business grow from just a few customers to about 120 a day.

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.