Reinventing Magoos"Back when I turned 21, my friends told me this was the place to go," whooped Magoo's regular Brian Lee, hoisting a mug of Red Hook skyward from his barside table. For the past several years, Lee, like many other local nightlifers has made Magoo's his first -- and sometimes only -- stop when embarking on a night of merrymaking. "And every time I come here I either forget or don't care about the places I was supposed to go afterward."
The chain's founder wants to
return it to its former prominence
By Shawn 'Speedy' Lopes
Twenty-one was also a magical age for Magoo's founder Gilbert Sakaguchi, who in 1967 opened his first location in Waikiki. Expansion began the next year, and by 1973 he had close to a dozen pizzerias in Hawaii. "Then we kept going and kind of burned out," he concedes. "But we've been around for 34 years now."
After dabbling in other ventures (most notably the popular Carnival Carnival arcades), Sakaguchi returned to oversee Magoo's daily operations 2-1/2 years ago and now has designs to return his chain to its former prominence, one step at a time.
Though not nearly as visible as the Pizza Hut, Domino's and Papa John's outlets that now dominate Honolulu's urban landscape, the locally owned Magoo's chain once boasted more than 30 restaurants and is currently a worldwide venture with 15 franchises in the Philippines alone. "We get inquiries from time to time and decide if it's feasible," explains Sakaguchi of his modus operandi. "In fact, we're opening one this week in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates."
In the '70s, TV and radio commercials popularized the catch phrase "No hu-hu, call Magoo's" and helped make Magoo's the most recognized local pizza chain. Throughout the '80s and '90s, its franchise numbers fluctuated and when Sakaguchi couldn't renegotiate his lease at his flagship Waikiki franchise several years ago, he re-established Magoo's on the premises of the old Mama Mia pizzeria in Puck's Alley. Soon after introducing patrons to bountiful pitchers of beer for a mere $5, his patronage skyrocketed. Magoo's bustled once again with a wild mix of college students, neighborhood revelers and thirsty retirees who on busier days spilled out onto University Avenue. "We sell an average of 80 kegs a week," Sakaguchi says. "We started out with 12 (beer brands) and now we have over 60. We're probably going to expand to 80."
Magoo's draft selection now rivals that of Oahu's most esteemed pubs and restaurants with recent on-tap additions like John Courage, Warsteiner, Guinness, Kona Pacific Ale, Kauai Sunset, Bitburger and Mirror Pond spicing up its brew menu. Newly appointed promotions director Alan Arato, who occasionally doubles as bartender, is pleased with what he's seen so far and believes there's still room for expansion, both in franchising and clientele. "With these prices, I don't see how any one else can compare," he says proudly. Late last year, Magoo's tore down a wall that separated it from an adjoining business and now occupies both spaces, with indoor and outdoor accommodations.
Of course, with additional patronage comes greater responsibility. K.K. Kaminaka, whom patrons may remember as a singer/songwriter with a catalog of locally produced albums, now assists Sakaguchi in Magoo's operations. "Now I like pizza," he says with a smile. Aside from its garlic fries (topped with overly generous chunks of garlic), Magoo's hot subs, chicken dinners and other menu items complement its tasty brew selection quite nicely.
As for the pizza: "Only two people in this world know the secret ingredients to the sauce here," Kaminaka reveals, jerking a thumb toward Sakaguchi. "That's him and his brother." That would be Gilbert's brother Glenn, who has been an integral part of the Magoo's family for most of its existence. The sauce, they say, is so top-secret that it is made only in Honolulu and shipped off to its other franchises around the world.
By 9 p.m., the eatery is nearly at full capacity. Although not technically a nightclub, similarities abound. Illuminated by neon beer signs and rocking with jukebox favorites, Magoo's roars with the din of heavy conversation and clinking glasses. Patrons like Lee lean back in their seats, carry on and scan the horizon for action from time to time. Slender young women in spaghetti strap tops naturally fetch the majority of wandering eyes, but with the atmosphere here resembling a big, casual patio party, a glance is just a glance and a quick one at that.
"You checking out that honey at the bar too?" I overhear one fella asking him.
"No, but thanks for pointing her out," Lee chuckles, leaning forward and squinting.
"I was actually checking out the bar, dude. Decisions, decisions."
Where: Puck's Alley, 1015 University Ave.
When: Open 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. daily, with weekend crowds Thursday and Friday nights; pasta menu from 5 p.m.
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