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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 1, 2007

Wow, lau lau: Masu's no more

 Photo gallery Masu's Massive Plate Lunch photo gallery
Video: Masu's serves its last 'Massive Plate Lunch'

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

On the last day of business yesterday at Masu's Massive Plate Lunch, customers weren't going to let the long line stop them.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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LILIHA Malu Afong drove all the way from Kailua to Masu's Massive Plate Lunch in Liliha yesterday to buy three lau lau plates for her mom, dad and grandma.

Nothing, not even the persistent drizzle or the long line, was going to stop her.

"My dad-them used to take me here when I was younger," said the 28-year-old caregiver. "It's closing today, so I know they'd appreciate a last meal."

Hundreds of people flocked to the little eatery on the corner of Liliha and Kuakini streets to get their last fix of Masu's famous teri chicken and lau lau.

The business, known for naming specials after local celebrities, closed yesterday after 33 years.

"All the good places, this ends up happening," Afong said, waiting in a line that snaked out of Masu's and into the parking lot. "I don't like it when old places go out of business. It's just so sad."

Finance Factors recently bought the building that Masu's occupied. Owner Paul Masuoka decided not to reopen elsewhere.

"I've been very lucky throughout those 33 years," said Masuoka, 63, who, ironically, doesn't eat rice or teriyaki sauce. "I got to meet so many people and I got to be friends with so many people. That's what I'll miss. The cooking part, you can chuck it."

Masuoka never imagined that the Kaka'ako catering business he started in 1974 with his late mother, Yoshiko, would become such a beloved lunch spot.

"The young adults come in and say, 'You know, my parents used to always go here and they always talk about it and I had to come in,' " Masuoka said. "I say, 'Thanks a lot. You make me feel old.' "

Masuoka began serving plate lunches from the warehouse where he ran his catering business. The menu included pork cutlet, teri chicken, beef curry and chopped steak in plate lunches that cost less than $2.

In 1980, Masuoka moved the business to a site on Ke'eaumoku Street, where he began naming daily specials after local celebrities such as Loyal Garner, Melveen Leed and Jim Leahey.

Around 1990, Masu's moved to Liliha, taking along its loyal patrons, many of whom turned out yesterday for one last meal.

Michael Salavea, 33, had been ordering take-out at Masu's for 20 years.

Yesterday, he stood in line at 10 a.m., hoping to get a lau lau plate before they ran out.

"There's no place like this," said Salavea, a graphic artist from 'Aiea. "It's not only the food, but it's the people serving the food."

Feato Tyrell, a 41-year-old construction worker from Wai'anae, would pick up lunch at Masu's almost every day.

He didn't know where he is going to eat now that it was closing.

"It fills me up and it's cheap," said Tyrell, waiting to order a lau lau and teri chicken mixed plate. "It's hard fo' find this kine eateries nowadays."

Before noon, dozens of people stood in line and crowded the small dining area, its walls covered with autographed photos of local celebrities.

There were bus drivers and school teachers, retirees and entire families. Even trio Tony Bee and the Bee Sisters friends of Masuoka came to play traditional Hawaiian music.

By 11 a.m. the first batch of lau lau at $3.95 for a plate had run out. People waited patiently for more than half an hour for the next batch, enjoying the live music and thanking Masuoka for providing them with affordable plate lunches with generous portions for three decades.

"When I was in my 40s and 50s, I used to wish I could retire," said Masuoka, who plans to work part time but not cook and volunteer. "But then, when the time comes, it's a funny feeling. It's like a chapter in your life has ended. It's a funny feeling."

He said his mom would shake her head at him, retiring at 63. She worked until 87.

"I tell people my mom must be rolling in her grave," he said, laughing. "I don't know how she did it."

Reach Catherine E. Toth at ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Correction: Marukin Market and Jane's Fountain are not scheduled to close or move; the building that houses the two businesses has been taken off the market. A previous version of this story incorrectly that the two businesses would close or move soon.