Black ribbons and closed doors at Hamura Saimin in Lihue yesterday signaled the loss of co-founder Aiko Hamura, who perfected the restaurant's saimin recipe and helped make the business into a Kauai institution.
AIKO HAMURA / 1910-2002
Saimin shop co-founderAttorney "Lew" Trask Sterry
created Kauai institution
with hard work
By Leila Fujimori
Phone calls poured in to find out what happened since the 50-year-old saimin stand closes only for three major holidays. The family held a private service yesterday.
Customers were shocked to learn of the 91-year-old's death Monday from a heart attack.
"She had a lot of spunk in her, so when she passed away I was really shocked myself," said 74-year-old daughter Hazel Hiraoka, owner of Hamura Saimin.
The family-run restaurant is frequented by locals and is on the list of must-visit eateries on Kauai and written up in travel books and brochures.
Islanders often stop by the factory at Hamura's Lihue house to pick up boxes of the fresh noodles.
Hamura and husband Charles opened the saimin stand with only six wooden stools in 1952 on Kress Street. Business was slow in the beginning because the shop was hidden in a back alley.
Hiraoka said her mother told her father, "You better just hang up this business and go find a job so we get a more steady income."
But through word of mouth, business grew.
"They never gave up," Hiraoka said. "I'm proud of them, it's so famous."
Born in Puunene, Maui, on April 30, 1910, Hamura spent a few years in Hiroshima prefecture as a child and returned when she was 8 years old.
She got her start peddling vegetables from a black Ford sedan.
"In the 1940s you never heard of women driving," said daughter-in-law Jean Hamura. "She was quite a person."
She then learned a recipe for saimin from a friend in Lihue, and sold the noodles along with the produce.
"Before she opened the place, she perfected the recipe," Jean Hamura said. "It wasn't up to her standards. She felt something was missing, so she used to mix so much and practice and taste until the noodles were up to what it is today.
"She would make her own won ton, roast her own pork, fry her own eggs for garnish. She worked very, very hard. She really was the backbone of what it is today," Jean Hamura said.
Her mother-in-law taught her the secret family recipe, and now Jean makes the dough, while her husband, Herbert, kneads and slices it into noodles.
The original broth for the saimin was made with Hokkigai clams, but they became too difficult to get and too expensive, and the couple devised a new blend of chicken broth and dried shrimp, which is used today.
Aiko Hamura remained active and had looked forward to a Feb. 10 trip to Las Vegas, where she played the slot, keno and poker machines, her family said. Even a leg amputation couldn't keep her down. She remained positive and upbeat, using an artificial leg to get around.
Hamura is also survived by sons Charles and Herbert, daughter Doris Hironaka, brother Hiromu Ikeda, sister Yoneko Yamamoto, caregiver Whitey Kurasaki, eight grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.