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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, March 26, 2005

KC Drive Inn serves last meal today after storied 70-year run

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

KC Drive Inn, one of O'ahu's most beloved family-owned restaurants known for its waffle dogs and ono ono shakes, will close at 3 p.m. today.

Richard Saito, left, and his wife, Kay, center, of Hawai'i Kai, and their friend, Gladys Karr of Honolulu, yesterday enjoyed one of the last meals offered at KC Drive Inn. The 20,000-square-foot property at Kapahulu and Harding avenues will be closing today.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

The Asato family, owners of the restaurant, put the 20,000-square-foot property on the corner of Kapahulu and Harding avenues up for sale last year for $3.25 million.

The property is currently in escrow. The family would not disclose buyer or sale price.

"It's a little bittersweet," said Dayton Asato, the restaurant's president. "It's good that we're not going to suffer anymore through our economic state. But at the same time, I'm sad for the customers, the regulars. They're the ones who really make or break you."

In December 2004, the Asato family also closed The Wisteria, another landmark restaurant on the corner of King and Pi'ikoi streets. It had been serving customers for 52 years.

The closing of KC Drive Inn marks the end of a legacy for one of Hawai'i's most prominent restaurant families.

KC Drive Inn has served up local food for many generations of O'ahu residents and visitors over the years, beginning initially at a site on the corner of Ala Wai Boulevard and Kalakaua Avenue.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

"The closing of a community restaurant also means it's a personal event for people," said Dennis Ogawa, an American studies professor at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. "For those who have gone to the restaurant for birthday parties or meeting friends, it has become part of their very personal lives. And that's important."

Increasing costs and added competition took their toll on KC Drive Inn, which has been operating for more than 70 years — 47 of those in Waikiki.

Uncertainty about its future also hurt sales in recent months, with fewer patrons dining at the restaurant since the family put the property up for sale, Asato said. The restaurant wasn't able to hire additional employees either.

"We were losing money," he said. "We've been super slow ... It's unbelievable."

Especially considering the restaurant's storied history, beginning on the corner of Ala Wai Boulevard and Kalakaua Avenue. That location gave the restaurant, then a car hop, its reputation for being a late-night hot spot, luring couples, families and Waikiki entertainers.

Even after it moved out of Waikiki in 1981, the restaurant continued to be known for its local-style food and service.

While Asato had wanted to continue the restaurant's tradition of its signature waffle dogs, he plans to focus on another business, anytimegrinds.com, an interactive online restaurant guide that launched in November.

Next month the Web site, which lists the menus for dozens of restaurants, will begin home delivery service for the Leeward area, Asato said. He plans to use his restaurant experience to help other eateries with their marketing efforts to increase sales.

But for now, he's just focusing on the last day of business and saying goodbye to the restaurant's loyal customers.

"We really have nothing to gain right now," Asato said. "We just want the people who regularly come in to have an enjoyable meal."

Reach Catherine E. Toth at 535-8103 or ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.